South Africa latest travel restrictions. Omicron travel ban
European Union health ministers will discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of the Omicron variant on Tuesday, but are not expected to make any decision on easing travel restrictions, three sources told Reuters.
Late in November, EU states agreed to impose travel curbs on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant, which is considered highly infectious.
Bloomberg News, citing one diplomat familiar with the matter, reported on Monday that EU health ministers at a meeting on Tuesday may agree on the need for a PCR test for vaccinated third-country nationals from that region, which could allow some travel bans to be eased or lifted within a week.
The travel ban "was meant always as a time-limited measure", one senior EU official told Reuters, adding however that there was no plan at the moment to lift it. "We are not yet working in that direction."
Another two EU sources familiar with the work of health ministers said no decision on travel bans was expected at Tuesday's meeting.
Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe are the southern African countries that have been targeted.
South Africa has criticized the travel ban which it said penalized the country for having the expertise to first identify the variant. The United States, Britain, and many other countries imposed bans similar to those of the EU.
World Health Organization (WHO) advice issued after the emergence of the Omicron variant warns against blanket travel bans, which it says will not stop the global spread.
It adds that they "place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."
They can adversely impact global health efforts...by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data," it says.
It says countries should apply what it calls a "risk-based, time-limited" approach.
After the pandemic began in 2020, the WHO made clear it didn't generally support travel bans, as they were "usually not effective."
It said: "Travel measures that significantly interfere with international traffic may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time."