The United States Government has imposed restrictions on flight movements from South Africa and seven other countries from the southern region, as a measure to contain a new coronavirus variant spreading there.
Other countries affected by the new development were: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
It said that from Monday, November 29th, the ban would be effective and that only US citizens and residents would be allowed to travel from the region into any of the international airports.
The restrictions imposed by the President Joe Biden led administration followed a similar flight ban imposed by the European Union United Kingdom and Canada on movements of passengers from the region after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised concerns on the new COVID-19 variant and codenamed it t Omicron.
Through a statement released to pressmen, the president described the move as a precautionary measure taken by the government to prevent the new variant from spreading to US and that the restrictions would be reviewed when much had been known about the new variant.
The Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa barely three days before the travel ban and has since been identified in other countries.
Following the ban, South Africa’s health ministry has criticised the rush to impose new travel restrictions, calling them “draconian”, and contrary to WHO guidance.
Scientists say they still have much to learn about the virus’s new mutations, and the WHO has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as experts work to determine how transmissible it is.
Barely 24 hours before the US declaration, the WHO had said that preliminary evidence suggested the new variant carried a higher risk of reinfection than other variants.
The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”.
The South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans against the country were “unjustified”.