Omicron: Arab countries ban travel from southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant

Omicron: Arab countries ban travel from southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant
The WHO warned on Monday that the new Covid-19 Omicron variant posed a 'very high' risk globally, despite uncertainties about the danger and contagion levels of the new strain.
5 min read
29 November, 2021
Arab states are checking their populations for signs of the new variant [file photo-Getty]

Several countries in the MENA region have issued new travel restrictions, banning travellers and suspending flights from a number of African nations amid the emergence of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant.

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the new Covid-19 variant posed a "very high" risk globally, despite uncertainties about the danger and contagion levels of the new strain.

The UN health agency said the Covid strain first discovered in southern Africa was a "highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations... some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility".

"The likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high," WHO cautioned in a technical note.

To date, no deaths connected with the Omicron variant have been reported, it added. However, a growing list of countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including the US, UK, and many Arab states.


Morocco has suspended flights into and out of the country for two weeks due to the new variant. A government Covid-19 task force said the new rules would be effective at 11:59pm local time on Monday but said adjustments might be made within that period. 

"The decision has been taken because of the quick spread of the new Covid variant, Omicron, namely in Europe and Africa, and in order… to protect the health of Moroccan citizens," it said, according to Al Jazeera

The country had already banned entry to and from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Russia due to an explosion of cases in Europe. 

Morocco, a country of 36.91 million people, has recorded a total of nearly 1 million Covid-19 cases and 14,700 deaths due to the virus. 

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Cairo has banned travellers to and from several southern African countries, mainly including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

The Advisor to the Egyptian President for Health and Prevention Affairs Mohamed Awad Taj Eddin said on Monday that the Omicron strain has not been detected in Egypt so far.

He stressed that all precautionary measures must continue to be followed especially if the strain is discovered in Egypt and said that the current travel ban will remain until the situation becomes "clearer".

Egypt, with a population of 102.3 million, has recorded a total of 357,000 Covid-19 cases, and 20,347 deaths.

Saudi Arabia

Riyadh announced it has suspended air travel from several African countries amid the spread of Omicron.

The Saudi ministry of interior said on Sunday that the kingdom is halting connections with Angola, Zambia, Mauritius, Madagascar, Malawi, the Seychelles and Comoros Islands, as well as prohibiting their citizens from entering the kingdom.

Saudi authorities will allow entry to those who are coming from a third country, provided they spend 14 days in quarantine there as well as another five days in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, with a population of 34.8 million, has reported Covid over 550,000 cases and 8,833 death to date.

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A UAE health official said late on Sunday that authorities were following updates on the new Covid strain.

"The variant was first reported in South Africa, after which cases were detected in several countries, including among travellers,"  Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokesperson of the health sector in the UAE, said in a briefing.

The UAE had on Friday announced the suspension of entry of travellers from seven African countries - South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. The travel suspension is effective from 29 November.

With a population of 9.89 million, has reported over 742,000 Covid cases and 2,146 deaths.


Qatari health officials said no case of the newly identified coronavirus variant Omicron was detected in the tiny Gulf state.

"In Qatar, we are tracking infected cases but so far no case of new variant Omicron is detected in the country," said Dr. Hamad Al Rumaihi, the director of the Department of Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control.

Qatar Airways said on Saturday it has banned entry to travellers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Qatar, with a population of 2.9 million, has reported over 234,000 cases and 611 deaths.


Oman on Sunday banned entry from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

According to the state-run Oman News Agency, the ban does did not affect the country's citizens, diplomats and health workers.

The sultanate of five million people has recorded over 305,000 Covid cases and 4,113 deaths.

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On Sunday, Kuwait suspended direct flights from nine African countries due to the Omicron variant, the government communication centre tweeted on Saturday, citing a cabinet decision.

The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi.

Non-Kuwaitis coming from those countries will need to stay in a third country for 14 days, the government added.

Kuwait, a country with a population of 4.2 million people, has reported over 413,000 Covid cases and 2,465.


Amman on Sunday announced precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Omicron variant. 

Travellers from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana are banned from entering Jordan, the Jordanian National Centre for Security and Crisis Management said in a statement.

Jordanian citizens arriving from those countries will be allowed to enter Jordan only after they undertake a PCR test and quarantine in a government hotel for 14 days.

Jordan's foreign ministry said it was following up on the status of some 300 Jordanians who live in South Africa.

With a population of  10.2 million, including 1.3 Syrian refugees, Jordan has reported almost one million Covid-19 cases and 11,551 deaths.


Lebanese Health Minister Firass Abiad voiced concern on Friday over the new strain of coronavirus variant.

Speaking at a press conference, Abiad said a scientific committee was examining swabs for the new variant among the recently reported Covid-19 cases.

Questioned over measures taken to avoid the variant spreading into Lebanon, Abiad said "there are no current direct flights between us and the countries in which this variant has appeared".

Abiad also said there were "meetings with the World Health Organization to find out whether the mutation was a cause for concern".

Lebanon, with a population of 6.8 million, including one million Syrian refugees, has reported over 668,000 cases and 8,709 deaths to date.