South Africa says travel ban by African nations 'regrettable and sad'

The travel restrictions have dealt a new blow to South Africa's tourism industry. PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa on Monday (Nov 29) said it was "regrettable... (and) sad" that fellow African nations had joined a rush by wealthy countries to impose travel bans over the new Covid-19 variant.

"It is quite regrettable, very unfortunate, and I will even say sad, to be talking about travel restrictions imposed by a fellow African country," foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said.

Angola, Mauritius, Rwanda and the Seychelles have halted flights from South Africa in a bid to shield themselves from Omicron.

"What I don't understand is that some of these African countries that are doing this, know the struggles (that) as a continent we have, where European countries will take this decision and impose travel bans," said Mr Monyela.

He said South Africa had recently made "substantial donations" of vaccines to some of the countries that were now imposing flight bans.

"When a fellow African country does that, especially in the context where most of these countries are beneficiaries... it doesn't make sense," he told an online news conference organised by the health ministry.

Mr Monyela said his ministry was urging countries on the continent and further afield that have hurried to impose travel restrictions to reverse them "immediately".

Dozens of nations from Europe to Asia have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and its neighbours since its scientists flagged Omicron last Thursday.

Mauritius and Rwanda were the latest African countries to suspend flights.

Rwanda announced late on Sunday that it was halting direct flights to and from nine countries in southern Africa.

All passengers who landed from those countries in the past seven days now have to spend a week in quarantine in designated hotels - at their own cost.

Last Saturday, the director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, Mr Arvind Bundhun, said in a statement that it was "with regret" that the government took the decision to suspend all flights from southern Africa.

Meanwhile, Angola - itself among the blacklisted southern African nations - at the weekend suspended all flights to and from Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa until further notice.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, whose country is also blacklisted, accused Western countries of "Afrophobia" for shutting their borders.

Botswana, where scientists say the variant was first described, has also warned against "geo-politicising" the virus.

An outraged South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday called on countries to "immediately and urgently" reverse the travel curbs, which he said were scientifically "unjustified."

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said many South Africans had felt the country had hastened to go public with the discovery of the new Omicron variant and that had it "kept quiet, travel bans would not have happened".

"But that would have been detrimental, because our approach is for our citizens to not live in false security and false safety," said Mr Phaahla.

The travel restrictions have dealt a new blow to South Africa's tourism industry, which had hoped the southern hemisphere summer would bring an influx of visitors from the well-heeled north.

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