Govt bans travel from Omicron-hit region
These countries have also been included in 'Category C', says NCOC
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Saturday banned the entry of travellers from South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Hong Kong, after the emergence of Omicron Corona variant of Covid-19 in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions.
Planning Minister Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, confirmed the restrictions on travel from six South African countries and Hong Kong, said stressed that the emergence of the new variant further underscores the urgency to vaccinate all eligible citizens.
“Based on the emergence of the new Covid variant, notification has been issued to restrict travel from 6 South African countries and Hong Kong,” Umar said in a tweet. “The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older,” he added.
Based on the emergence of the new covid variant, notification has been issued restrict travel from 6 south african countries and Hong Kong. The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older.— Asad Umar (@Asad_Umar) November 27, 2021
South African scientists announced the discovery of Omicron variant on November 25. With multiple mutations, the variant is thought to be highly contagious. Many countries are racing to try and contain it, banning flights from southern Africa.
“Consequent to the emergence of Omicron Covid variant in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions, complete ban has been imposed on direct/indirect inbound travel from South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana,” the NCOC said in a statement.
“The aforementioned countries have also been included in “Category C,” the NCOC, which serves as the nerve centre of the government’s unified strategy to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, further said.
The NCOC added that Pakistani passengers, travelling from these countries on extreme emergency would only be allowed after obtaining exemptions, and the health/testing protocols would be ensured for these passengers.
The protocols include “vaccination certificate, negative PCR [polymerase chain reaction] report (maximum 72 hours old) before boarding, RAT [rapid antigen test] on arrival at the airport”, the statement said.
Moreover, it added, RAT negative cases would undergo three days of mandatory home-quarantine where re-RAT would be conducted on the third day by the civil administration. “RAT positive cases will undergo 10 days mandatory quarantine … and PCR test will be conducted on the 10th day in quarantine.”
In order to facilitate stranded Pakistanis, however, the travel from “these countries till December 5, will be allowed without exemption but the above-mentioned health/testing protocols will remain applicable”, the NCOC statement continued.
“Aviation Division/Airport Management/ASF only devise a mechanism for screening of passengers travelling from above-mentioned countries through indirect flights and share with all concerned by November 29, 21,” the statement concluded.
Pakistan had recently lifted most of the travel curbs after the virus situation eased in the country as well as abroad. For the past many weeks, the NCOC has been reporting a single-digit death toll from coronavirus infections, while the daily tally of new cases remains under 500.
The NCOC said in its daily update on Saturday that 7 Covid-19 patients died, while 411 tested positive in the last 24 hours, adding that the national positivity ratio was 0.92%.
It said that the national caseload of the disease since its outbreak in February 2020, had soared to 1,283,886. The highest number of patients, 475,097, was recorded in Sindh, followed by 442,876 in Punjab, 179,888 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 107,601 in Islamabad, 34,542 in Azad Kashmir, 33,471 in Balochistan and 10,411 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
With 7 latest fatalities, the nationwide death toll rose to 28,704. The forum said that highest death toll, 13,015, was recorded in Punjab, followed by 7,620 in Sindh, 5,830 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 952 in Islamabad, 742 in Azad Kashmir, 359 in Balochistan, and 186 in GB.
Fears mount worldwide
Meanwhile, the world brought the shutters down to contain the Omicron variant amid fears that the highly-infectious strain was pushing its way into Europe. However, the South African government was seething over the stigma it has suffered in the past 48 hours for being the bearer of bad news.
Britain confirmed its first two Omicron infections and suspected new cases emerged in Germany and the Czech Republic, while Dutch authorities quarantined 61 passengers from South Africa who tested positive for Covid-19.
South Korea, Australia and Thailand joined the United States, Brazil, Canada and a host of other countries around the world, who have restricting the travel from the region, fearing a major setback to global efforts against the pandemic.
South Africa – the worst-hit by the pandemic on the continent – is complained that it was being “punished” with air travel bans for first detecting the strain, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has termed a “variant of concern”.
Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and whether it can evade existing vaccines. The virus has already slipped through the net with cases in Europe and Hong Kong and Israel.
Both cases in Britain were linked to travel from southern Africa, and in response the government expanded travel restrictions on the region. Belgium said on Friday it had detected the first announced infection in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.
Germany’s suspect case, meanwhile, was fully jabbed, while the neighbouring Czech Republic was carrying out further tests on a woman who had travelled from Namibia and was suspected to have the new variant.
The Netherlands found that 61 people, out of 600 arrivals, at Schiphol airport on Friday from South Africa were positive for Covid-19. Those infected, who took off before the Dutch government announced a ban on travellers from the region, were being kept quarantined in a hotel.
The main countries targeted by the shutdown include South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Vaccine manufacturers have held out hope that they can modify current vaccines to target the Omicron variant.
(WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)