Mbabane: Eswatini and seven other Southern African countries have been subjected to travel bans by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada after the detection of the new Omicron variant of the Covid 19 virus in the region. The other seven countries are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
The Omicron variant was initially detected in South Africa and has also been identified in Botswana, Hong Kong, and Belgium. This has prompted Western countries to shut their borders to travelers who have been to the seven nations in the past 14 days.
In a statement, United States President Joe Biden called the move a “precautionary measure” taken until more is known about the variant. The Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on 24 November and has since been identified in other countries.
Last Friday the WHO said preliminary evidence suggested the new variant carried a higher risk of reinfection than other variants. Scientists have said it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means Covid vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, China, may not be as effective.
On Sunday the WHO urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new Covid-19 omicron variant. WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions
“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.” Moeti praised South Africa for following international health regulations and informing WHO as soon as its national laboratory identified the omicron variant.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Eswatini says it is closely monitoring the prevalence of the emerging variants of concern globally and within the country due to its increasing transmissibility and disease severity compared to previous Covid-19 virus strains. Achieving high primary (first and second dose) coverage remains the focus and top priority of Eswatini’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The travel ban came into effect on Monday.
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