‘Absolute chaos’ in South Africa as flights suspended over Omicron | Corona virus pandemic news

‘Absolute chaos’ in South Africa as flights suspended over Omicron |  Corona virus pandemic news

Johannesburg, South Africa – Disbelief and confusion prevailed over South Africa with the announcement of the discovery of Omicron COVID-19 variable flights and raised fears of a severe shutdown in Africa’s most developed economies.

Flights from the country to the US, UK and countries in Europe were quickly banned after South African scientists officially announced the discovery of the virus strain on Thursday.

“This is an absolute mess. No one can tell us what is possible in terms of travel at this point,” said Steve Lawrence, a passenger stranded in OR Tambo, one of Africa’s busiest airports.

“Things are changing every minute and we are left in limbo. We had planned to stay in the US for December – and now we are stuck.”

Daily infections with the coronavirus have risen 13 times since early November, with 3,220 new cases recorded on Saturday. And it raised eight deaths in total to 89,791 in South Africa since the outbreak of the epidemic.

About 600 passengers on two KLM flights from Johannesburg to Amsterdam were left stranded on the runway at Schiphol Airport after a panic after the announcement.

“It would be naive for developed countries to believe that they can stop the spread of this variant by imposing a blanket ban on countries in South Africa. The virus has already found its way into these communities from individuals who have not traveled or come into contact with,” Shabeer Madi, a South African vaccination specialist, told Al Jazeera. Anyone from South Africa.

“The fact that it was discovered here doesn’t make it a South African version – it was only discovered here. In South Africa we have one of the best COVID sequencing capabilities in the world based on our experience treating HIV and TB. We’ve been ahead of the game for a while now, so We are a victim of our own success.”

The sudden stop of flights sparked panic in the tourism industry with increased cancellations of reservations immediately after the announcement.

“I am completely shocked. When we woke up on Friday morning, everything was fine – now within 48 hours we are blocked and we are seeing many cancellations,” said Manuela Palmier, owner of Mziki Safari lodge in the Northwest Province of Al Jazeera.

South Africa’s tourism sector lost $10 billion in bookings in 2020 due to a drop in foreign visitors, and is estimated to lose about $10 million each week as trips from major overseas tourism markets are suspended.

“We have a good local tourist market, but if they cancel all our foreign tourists, we will really be destroyed,” Balamir added.

A petrol worker stands next to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa, on Saturday. [Denis Farrell/AP]

“Awesome repetition”

South Africa’s tourism sector is one of the country’s major employers, providing employment for 4.5 percent of the total population and adding up to 3 percent of GDP annually.

“This is like a terrible repetition of a terrible movie,” Frank Lea of ​​the Honest Travel Express told Al Jazeera.

“This industry was just beginning to come out of this crisis and after two years we still don’t have a solution to this virus and it is affecting us again.”

Lobbying for the lifting of the ban began closely after the travel restrictions were announced with the South African government and the private sector denouncing their “punishment for telling the truth”.

The Federal Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA) said it was working with the South African government to lift the ban or challenge it in the courts.

“We are not going to lie down and let this happen to us,” union president Rosemary Anderson told Al Jazeera.

“As an industry, we will be working with government and other industry bodies to legally challenge this. We think we will be able to speak out scientifically to show the UK and other countries that this is illogical and unacceptable.”

The South African government said any travel ban on the country was “wrongly directed” as the World Health Organization also called for calm.

“New variants have been discovered in other countries. Neither of those cases have recent links to South Africa,” Health Minister Jo Bhalla told a news conference on Friday.

“We feel that some country leaders are finding scapegoats to deal with a global problem.”

South Africa is now preparing for tougher domestic COVID restrictions as well, with President Cyril Ramaphosa scheduled to address the nation on Sunday evening after meeting with the country’s coronavirus leadership council.

South Africa previously implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, imposing complete bans on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes and restricting travel between provinces.

Only 23.8 percent of South Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated while the average for the rest of the continent is just 7 percent.

“If the government wants higher restrictions, they are deliberately ignoring their effects – the lockdowns have not prevented infection,” Madi said.

If another decision is implemented it will be a political one, not a scientific one. Any action must be measured and feasible and focus on areas where medical resources are under pressure from the increase in infections.”

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