BusinessDay

S/Arabia bans flights from Nigeria over COVID-19 new variant

… as severe cases remain low in South Africa

The hope of Nigerians planning to attend the lesser hajj has been dashed as Saudi Arabia has barred all flights from Nigeria due to the latest variant of the COVID-19 pandemic, Omicron.

According to the Kingdom, all non-citizens with history of travel to Nigeria would not be allowed into Saudi Arabia, according to a circular issued by the General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

In the document, signed by the assistant president for Economic Policies and Air Transport, stated that all non-citizens with a history of travel to Nigeria would be prevented from entering Saudi.

“Instructions: Suspending all incoming flights and suspending entry to the kingdom for non-nationals coming directly or indirectly from the Federal Republic of Nigeria except for those who have spent a period of no less than 14 days in another country from which they are allowed to come.

“Home quarantine will be applied for a period of five days to Saudi citizens coming from the mentioned country, provided PCR examination on the first day and fifth day regardless of immunisation status.

“Failure to comply with circulars issued by GACA is an explicit violation of government’s orders. Legal procedures shall be initiated against violators who will be held responsible,” according to the document.

The recent ban by Saudi Arabia now means Nigeria has been directly banned by four countries including the UK, Canada and Indonesia, and Hong Kong, now part of China.

Read also:  COVID-19 protocols: FG to ban airlines over non-compliance

Meanwhile, the Omicron variant is reaching more countries in Africa, while weekly Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the continent surged by 93 per cent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

It noted that signs of hope as preliminary data indicates that hospitalisations across South Africa remain low.

10 different African countries, including South Africa, currently account for 46 per cent of the nearly 1,000 Omicron cases reported by 57 countries across the world.

WHO said emerging data from South Africa indicates that Omicron may cause less severe illness.

It said that the ICU occupancy in South Africa between Nov. 14 and Dec. 4 was only 6.3 per cent, which is very low compared with the time when the country was facing the peak linked to the Delta variant in July.

In spite of the widespread global presence of Omicron, more than 60 countries have imposed travel bans that are mainly targeting southern African countries, some of which have yet to report any Omicron case.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said with Omicron now present in 60 countries globally, travel bans that mainly target African countries are hard to justify.

“We call for science-based public health measures to counter the spread of COVID-19.

“Travel restrictions, which come at the height of the end-of-year tourist season is ravaging Africa’s economies, with a knock-on impact that is potentially devastating to the health of Africans.’’

To ramp up the response to the Omicron variant and the rise in cases, WHO is supporting countries to improve genomic surveillance to track the virus and detect other potential variants of concern.

According to WHO, Africa has so far received more than 372 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered 248 million.

Although the pace of vaccination has increased in recent months, only 7.8 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

“What we do know is that uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally is creating an ideal environment for COVID-19 variants to emerge and spread explosively and regions with the least access to vaccines seem likely to suffer the most.

“With the end-of-year travel and festivities upon us, limited vaccination, rising COVID-19 cases and the new variant paint an ominous picture for our region.”

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