Travel doors slam shut as new Covid variant triggers alarm

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(CNN) — Main journey locations together with the European Union, Japan, Australia, america and Canada have moved to dam flights from African international locations following the invention of the Omicron variant, echoing earlier emergency responses that triggered a world freeze on journey.

The pace with which the brand new restrictions have been put in place — simply hours after the South African well being authorities introduced the invention of the variant, meant passengers have discovered themselves stranded with out a warning.

A whole bunch of passengers from South Africa have been being held for hours at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Friday, with dozens ending up being despatched right into a resort quarantine. This got here after the Netherlands imposed new journey restrictions amid considerations over an aggressive mutation of the novel coronavirus.

Two flights carrying between 400 and 600 passengers from South Africa, one from Cape City and one from Johannesburg, landed Friday late morning native time at Schiphol, an airport spokesman mentioned. Dutch well being authorities mentioned later 61 of the passengers examined optimistic for the virus, though it has not but been decided whether or not they had been contaminated with the Omicron variant.

The brand new pressure has up to now been detected in South Africa, Botswana and in two vacationers quarantining in Hong Kong. A case has additionally been reported in Belgium and in Israel. A number of different European international locations together with Germany and the Czech Republic mentioned they have been investigating suspected circumstances.

European Union states have agreed to introduce non permanent restrictions on all journey into the EU from southern Africa over the brand new coronavirus variant, the bloc mentioned Friday. The international locations involved are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, EU Fee spokesman Eric Mamer mentioned.

In the meantime, US President Joe Biden will prohibit journey from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi beginning Monday, administration officers informed CNN.

Biden informed the press he had “determined we will be cautious” concerning the variant. “We do not know quite a bit concerning the variant besides that it’s a massive concern and appears to unfold quickly,” he mentioned.

Canada shall be “banning the entry of international nationals… which have traveled by means of southern Africa within the final 14 days,” because of the Omicron variant, Well being Minister Jean-Yves Duclos informed a press convention on Friday.

Anybody who has traveled by means of southern Africa within the final 14 days ought to get a Covid-19 check and quarantine till they get a destructive check outcome, mentioned Duclos. The international locations embody South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he mentioned.

“Canadians and everlasting residents and people with a proper of entry into Canada shall be examined on arrival, [and] they’ll quarantine till they get the results of a destructive check,” in keeping with Duclos.

The UK, Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Tukey, Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan are additionally amongst these imposing restrictions on flights and vacationers from southern African nations in gentle of the brand new variant.

The World Well being Group introduced Friday it had designated the newly recognized variant, B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern, named Omicron.

Whereas solely dozens of circumstances have been recognized up to now, information of the variant, which has round double the quantity of mutations because the Delta variant, is already sparking fears all over the world.

On Friday, the Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation (IATA) warned towards journey bans, stressing such restrictions are “not a long-term answer” in relation to managing coronavirus variants.

“Governments are responding to the dangers of the brand new coronavirus variant in emergency mode inflicting worry among the many touring public. As shortly as attainable we should use the expertise of the final two years to maneuver to a coordinated data-driven strategy that finds secure alternate options to frame closures and quarantine,” mentioned IATA Director Common Willie Walsh in a press release.

Tourism fears

The cascade of closures started late Thursday because the UK introduced it might be briefly suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, with Well being Secretary Sajid Javid describing the variant because the “worst ever” pressure of the virus.

The transfer prompted the South African authorities to concern a press release describing the UK’s resolution as “rushed,” and expressed concern concerning the injury it might trigger to “each the tourism industries and companies of each international locations.”

Within the hours since, Japan has tightened border controls for vacationers from the identical six international locations, bringing in a 10-day quarantine starting 12 a.m. November 27.

In the meantime, Germany deliberate to declare South Africa a “virus variant space” from Friday evening, which is able to imply airways might solely enter from the nation to repatriate German residents.

Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all introduced imminent entry bans to all vacationers who’ve entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini prior to now two weeks.

KLM mentioned passengers will solely be allowed on flights from South Africa to the Netherlands in the event that they adjust to the entry restrictions imposed by the Dutch authorities.

The entry ban doesn’t apply to individuals with Dutch passports, EU residents, Schengen Space residents, medical emergency workers, airline workers and other people touring below distinctive circumstances, similar to household emergencies.

French Well being Minister Olivier Véran mentioned the “fast” circulation of the variant in South Africa “implies that it is in all probability contagious or very contagious,” justifying France’s precautionary stance.

After Belgium reported one individual just lately arrived from Egypt had examined optimistic for B.1.1.529, France mentioned it was “reinforcing” management at its border with Belgium.

Singapore has opted to ban all non-residents from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from coming into, whereas nationals and everlasting residents getting back from any of those international locations shall be required to serve a 10-day keep residence discover (SHN). Malaysia and the Philippines have taken related steps.

Dubai will prohibit vacationers originating from or transiting from the identical seven African international locations beginning Monday till additional discover, Emirates airline mentioned, citing Dubai’s Covid-19 Command and Management Middle.

Outbound passenger flights from Dubai to the international locations listed are permitted, nonetheless, the Emirates assertion mentioned.

Saudi Arabia on Friday introduced a short lived suspension of flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini, and urged each residents and residents to keep away from journey to the area till additional discover.

In the meantime, Jordan has introduced any Jordanians arriving from a number of international locations together with South Africa should go into authorities quarantine for 14 days, in keeping with a report Friday by Jordanian public broadcaster Al Mamlaka TV.

Non-Jordanians touring from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana will solely be allowed entry in the event that they spend 14 days outdoors these international locations in a 3rd nation, Al Mamlaka TV mentioned, citing the nation’s Inside Ministry. The brand new measures will go into impact Sunday.

Turkey has issued a journey ban from 5 African international locations — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — as of Friday evening, Turkish Well being Minister Fahrettin Koca mentioned on Twitter.

Egypt stopped direct flights to and from southern Africa following the World Well being Group announcement that the Omicron variant was designated as a “variant of concern.”

Australia has banned the entry of international residents who’ve traveled to the 9 south African international locations within the earlier 14 days. The federal government mentioned Australian residents could be allowed again into their residence nation, however should quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Russia mentioned that beginning midnight on Sunday, it might prohibit entry into the nation for international residents from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eswatini, Tanzania, and Hong Kong, in addition to for international residents who’ve been in these territories throughout the final 10 days.

The developments have led to hypothesis that strict curbs on journey introduced in at first of the pandemic might be on their method again.

The commerce group representing main US airways mentioned it has “many unanswered questions” concerning the Biden administration’s journey restrictions.

“We stay in communication with the US authorities as specifics stay unknown presently and there are numerous unanswered questions,” Airways for America spokesman Carter Yang mentioned. “Amid this quickly evolving state of affairs, it’s vital that US authorities choices concerning worldwide journey restrictions and necessities be rooted in science.”

Delta Air Strains mentioned it won’t cease service to and from South Africa. United Airways mentioned it won’t reduce its service to Johannesburg and can restart its path to Cape City subsequent week as deliberate.

Return to restrictions?

Germany has also joined the list of countries banning flights from southern Africa.

Germany has additionally joined the record of nations banning flights from southern Africa.

Boris Roessler/image alliance/Getty Pictures

“There’s undoubtedly a way in the intervening time that restrictions are returning,” Rory Boland, journey editor at shopper journal Which? informed CNN.

“Not simply Southern Africa, Portugal has reintroduced assessments for double vaccinated arrivals, and different international locations are rising restrictions. Once you’re within the nation too, numerous international locations are requiring assessments on high of vaccination. There are rising restrictions on boosters.

“There is a sense that journey is changing into tougher once more — and that is towards a background of numerous individuals not feeling assured touring already.”

World Well being Group specialists have mentioned whereas it’s nonetheless too early to gauge what sort of impression the mutation could have, individuals ought to begin taking precautions proper now to cut back the possibilities of their publicity to it.

She mentioned it might take researchers a number of weeks to grasp what it [the new variant] means, however motion was wanted within the meantime.

“All people that is on the market wants to grasp that the extra this virus circulates, the extra alternatives the virus has to alter, the extra mutations we’ll see,” she mentioned.

“Each single considered one of you watching has a task to play in driving transmission down, in addition to defending your self towards extreme illness and dying.

“So get vaccinated when you may, be sure you obtain the complete course of your doses, and be sure you take steps to cut back your publicity and forestall your self from passing that virus to another person.”

Monetary impression

Whereas it could be too early to gauge the impression of the virus, information of its emergence and the flight bans was sufficient to spook inventory markets.

European shares closed down sharply decrease after fears of a brand new Covid variant sparked a world sell-off. Within the UK the FTSE 100 ended the session 3.6% decrease, whereas Germany’s Dax was down 4% and the CAC 40 was 4.8% decrease in France. Dow futures have been additionally sharply down.

Asian shares began the sell-off, with Hong Kong’s Cling Seng Index dropping 2.7%, whereas Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 2.5%.

Journey shares and airline shares have been among the many massive fallers in Europe.

The recent nervousness comes as one other blow for the journey business, which has struggled to rebound after being delivered to a close to standstill throughout the first waves of the pandemic.

There at the moment are fears some journey corporations might not survive if the state of affairs with the brand new variant worsens.

“I feel sadly so — I am not saying they may go bust within the subsequent couple weeks however the monetary state of affairs many are in may be very, very difficult,” mentioned Boland.

“It isn’t simply that bookings are down, however they’re having to repeatedly concern refunds. They’re having problem getting financing from banks. There are a selection of market situations working towards them.

“The UK had little or no sector particular assist from authorities, so there’s an actual danger of additional vacation chaos and airways going bust.”

He went on to emphasize customers ought to all the time verify restrictions in any locations they’re planning to journey earlier than reserving and ensure they’ve acceptable protection simply in case.

“It is actually vital to have cowl to your vacation firm or airline going bust. In any other case, you might find yourself dropping a whole bunch or hundreds of kilos.”

Prime picture credit score: Leon Neal/Getty Pictures

CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi, Melissa Alonso, Pierre Bairin, Sharon Braithwaite, Julia Buckley, Amy Cassidy, Kaitlan Collins, Angela Dewan, Allegra Goodwin, Jomana Karadsheh, Niamh Kennedy, Mick Krever, Chris Liakos, Tim Lister, Allie Malloy, David McKenzie, Pete Muntean, Barry Neild, Robert North, Mostafa Salem, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Naomi Thomas, Greg Wallace and Xiaofei Xu contributed to this story.

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