0734 GMT January 20, 2022
Iran and several other countries joined nations imposing restrictions on travel from southern Africa on Saturday after the discovery of the new Omicron coronavirus variant sparked global concern.
Iran said it has tightened controls at entry points and banned passengers from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.
“We do not have direct flights from these countries,” Mohammad Mehdi Gouya, the head of the Iranian Heath Ministry’s Infectious Disease Management Center, said, according to ISNA.
Gouya, however, said non-Iranians arriving from those countries through indirect flights will be denied entry.
He said Iran will apply “maximum strictness” to prevent the new variant from entering the country.
The official advised Iranian nationals, who want to travel to the six African countries, to postpone their trips.
Gouya noted that Iranians arriving from the newly-banned nations will be required to pass PCR tests twice, otherwise they must remain in quarantine, which "may take up to 14 days".
Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, Reuters reported.
It was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Germany and Hong Kong.
It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant's mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it. Omicron is the fifth variant of concern designated by the WHO.
Authorities in Amsterdam said that 61 out of around 600 people who arrived in the Dutch city on two flights from South Africa on Friday had tested positive for the coronavirus. Health authorities were carrying out further tests to see if those cases involved the new variant.
A minister in the German state of Hesse said on Saturday that the variant had very probably arrived in Germany, in a traveler returning from South Africa. Czech health authorities said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.
Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world – including the United States, Brazil, Canada and European Union nations – announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa.
On Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from there.
Japan said it would extend its border controls to three more African countries after imposing curbs on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho on Friday.
Sri Lanka, Thailand and Oman also announced travel curbs on southern African nations.
Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.