By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Rwanda on Sunday became the latest country to suspend direct flights to southern Africa in a bid to prevent the entry of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Omicron variant, which was first reported by South Africa to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 24, has now been detected in at least a dozen countries.
“While the variant has not been detected in Rwanda, its effects are potentially dangerous, and therefore Rwandans and residents of Rwanda are required to exercise extra vigilance in the practice and enforcement of preventive measures,” said a statement issued by the Rwandan Prime Minister’s office following Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
Direct flights between Rwanda and southern Africa are temporarily suspended, it said.
With the decision, Rwanda’s national flag carrier RwandAir has effectively suspended flights to and from Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia and Harare in Zimbabwe.
Earlier in the day, RwandAir announced that effective Monday, it will not board passengers from South Africa and Zimbabwe travelling to Dubai.
Meanwhile, the government maintained that all arriving passengers must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours and quarantine for 24 hours at their own cost.
A seven-day quarantine will be required for passengers travelling from or those with a recent history of travel in the affected countries.
Last Friday, the WHO classified Omicron as a “variant of concern” and called on countries to enhance surveillance.
Several countries have tightened travel restrictions from southern Africa.
The WHO, however, said Sunday that it is not yet clear whether Omicron could easily spread from person to person compared to other variants, even though the number of people testing positive has climbed in South Africa attributable to the variant.