Maldives restricts travel from southern Africa amid concern over new Covid variant

A Qatar Airways flight lands at the Velana International Airport on August 11, 2021. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Maldives has imposed travel restrictions on seven southern African countries, amid concern over Omicron, a concerning new variant of COVID-19. 

Health Protection Agency (HPA) of Maldives released an order signed by the Director General of Public Health Maimoona Aboobakr on Saturday evening, announcing a ban on travel from South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini. 

This includes travelers who have stayed in the countries in question within 14 days prior to traveling to Maldives, and travelers who have transited in the countries in question for more than 12 hours. 

However, Maldivian citizens and work permit holders are exempt from the restriction. 

Maldives has also imposed additional travel restrictions on southern African countries, all of which take effect at 00:00 hours Sunday, November 28. 

Maldivian citizens and work visa holders who have stayed in the southern African countries within 14 days prior to traveling to Maldives (including those who have transited in the countries for more than 12 hours), will be subject to 14 days of quarantine upon arrival.  

They will need to get tested for COVID-19 after completing the 14 days, and will be released from quarantine once the test result comes back negative. 

Travelers from the southern African countries in question who are already en route to Maldives when the new restrictions take effect will be subject to a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival. Those who are in Maldives for more than 14 days will be tested again in 14 days, while those who are in Maldives for a shorter period will be tested prior to departure, if it has been three days since they took the initial test. 

The restrictions come hours after Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih expressed “great concern” over the new variant, and said the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) would be convening to decide on possible precautionary measures.   

Omicron, first reported from South Africa on November 24, has been classified by World Health Organization (WHO) as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.   

It has now been seen in travelers to the United Kingdom Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.  

United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries have joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from Africa.   

Neighboring Sri Lanka has also imposed a ban on travelers from southern African countries. 

Some experts believe the variant’s emergence illustrated how rich countries’ hoarding of vaccines threatens to prolong the pandemic. 

Fewer than 6 percent of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose.   

Omicron’s actual risks are not understood. WHO said that early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.  

Medical experts, including the WHO, has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.