More countries have imposed travel bans on South Africans, following the discovery of a new, highly mutated Covid-19 variant, which has already sneaked into Europe.

The variant – now named Omicron by the World Health Organisation – has already been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel and will rattle the prospects of persons travelling globally.

The United States is the latest country to announce it will restrict travel for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday, according to senior Biden administration officials.

In addition to South Africa, other countries included in the new restrictions are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

The United Kingdom was the first to react, announcing that South African travellers would be denied entry from midday Friday.

Non-UK and Irish residents who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe or Namibia in the previous 10 days will be denied entry.

South Africa has been placed back on the UK’s restrictive red list, which enforces strict quarantine requirements for returning residents. UK and Irish residents arriving from South Africa over the weekend will be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival PCR tests.

From 04:00 on Sunday, passengers arriving in the UK will need to quarantine in a state-managed hotel, at their own cost. This is the same red list requirement which decimated South Africa’s tourism sector.

South Africa was relegated to the UK’s red list until October. South Africa’s short-lived delisting held promise for the country’s ailing tourism sector but now, with the summer season approaching, being back on the red list comes at the worst possible time.

France and the Netherlands are the latest European nations to ban South African travellers.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced on Friday afternoon that flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries would be suspended for 48 hours, according to France24.

“Although no cases [of B.1.1.529 infection] have been detected on French territory, the principle of maximum caution must apply,” noted a statement from the French Prime Minister’s office.

Air France has not yet issued a statement concerning flight cancellations.

Germany has moved to declare South Africa a virus variant area on Friday, according to Reuters. The travel ban is expected to come into effect on Friday night.

This classification as a virus variant area means that travellers from South Africa will be prohibited from entering Germany. Airlines will only be able to fly Germans to Germany from South Africa. These returning citizens, even if vaccinated, will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Italy and Austria are examples of countries to which travel for South African passport holders was already prohibited. Residents and nationals returning from South Africa will be allowed to enter Italy and Austria but will be forced to quarantine for 10 days, even if they are considered fully vaccinated.

In Asia, Japan and Singapore have followed suit; meanwhile in the Middle-East, Israel, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also imposed bans. 

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