South Africa calls for urgent lifting of Covid enforced travel restriction

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on countries to “urgently” reverse “scientifically unjustified” travel restrictions linked to the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus.

His comments came as the highly mutated variant – dubbed Omicron – continued spreading around the world, with new cases identified in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

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Dozens of countries have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbours since South African scientists this week flagged the new variant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a “variant of concern” that is potentially more contagious than previous variants.

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The abrupt grounding of flights has spooked South Africa’s vital tourism industry, with booking cancellations increasing directly following the announcement. The country’s tourism sector lost $10bn in bookings in 2020 because of a drop in foreign visitors, and is estimated to lose about $10m every week flights are suspended from key overseas tourist markets.

Reporting from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller said there had been “a significant amount of frustration” among government officials and members of the scientific community over the travel curbs.

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