Pakistan has placed a complete travel ban from seven countries – South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Bostwana – in the wake of the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, Omicron.
“A complete ban has been imposed on direct/indirect inbound travel from these countries with immediate effect: South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Bostwana,” according to a notification issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Saturday.
“The aforementioned countries have also been included in ‘Category C,’ the NCOC further said.
The NCOC’s travel ban decision follows similar decisions by a host of countries to stem the spread of a new variant of the contagion. Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, also shared the new development on Twitter and stressed the need for vaccination among eligible citizens.
“Based on the emergence of the new covid variant, notification has been issued restrict travel from 6 south african countries and Hong Kong. The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older,” Umar said.
South African scientists on November 25 announced the discovery of a new Covid variant in small numbers. The variant - called B.1.1.529 - has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists had told reporters at a news conference.
The WHO said it could take several weeks to understand the variant and cautioned against imposing travel curbs while scientific evidence was still scant.
The NCOC has also directed that Pakistan passengers travelling from such countries “on extreme emergency” would only be allowed “after obtaining exemptions” and “following health/testing protocols would be ensured” for such passengers.
The protocols include “vaccination certificate, negative PCR [polymerase chain reaction] report (maximum 72 hours old) before boarding, RAT [rapid antigen test] on arrival at the airport.”
Moreover, it added, RAT negative cases would undergo three days of mandatory home quarantine where re-RAT would be conducted on the third day by the civil administration. “RAT positive cases will undergo 10 days mandatory quarantine … and PCR test will be conducted on the 10th day in quarantine.”
In order to facilitate stranded Pakistanis, however, the travel from “these countries till December 5, will be allowed without exemption but the above-mentioned health/testing protocols will remain applicable”, it read.
“Aviation Division/Airport Management/ASF only devise a mechanism for screening of passengers travelling from above-mentioned countries through indirect flights and share with all concerned by November 29, 21,” it added.
In a tweet: the NCOC said: “Due to the emergence of new Variant ‘Omicron’ in various countries, it is imperative to follow SOPs seriously. Please ensure that your Vaccination is complete (both doses in case of two-dose vaccine), wear Mask and isolate yourself / get tested in case of any symptoms! Stay Safe!!!”