Riyadh: Upon the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa, Saudi Arabia suspended air travel from seven African nations. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, named Omicron. The virus has attracted wide attention due to an extremely high number of mutations.
The Kingdom's Ministry of Interior announced that it has suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini. The action was taken based on the continuous follow-up of the epidemiological situation, reported Saudi Press Agency.
Non-nationals coming directly and indirectly from these nations will not be granted entry for the moment. Those who have spent a period of no less than 14 days in another country from which health procedures in the Kingdom allow entry will be given exceptions. These travellers will also have to undergo five-day quarantine. This applies to the citizens of the Kingdom as well regardless of being vaccinated. A source from MOI told Arab News that the procedures are being evaluated by health authorities.
The independent group of experts monitoring the evolution of coronavirus, the Technical Advisory Group, thinks that some of the mutations in the new variant are concerning. The variant has been detected at faster rates which suggest that it has a growth advantage.
Omicron, previously termed B.1.1.529 variant, was first reported to WHO on 24 November 2021. Three distinct peaks in reported cases in recent weeks have coincided with the detection of the new variant.
Several European and Asian nations have suspended flights from Southern Africa due to the emergence of Omicron. The UK has temporarily suspended flights for six days. The European Union has agreed to an emergency restriction. Singapore and Japan also tightened border controls, reported CNBC.