Travel from seven countries has been completely banned by Pakistan as a response to the emergence of the new variant of the COVID-19, Omicron. As per a notification issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).

The notification states that travel has been restricted from six southern African countries, namely South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Namibia, as well as Hong Kong.

The NCOC further added, these countries had been placed in category C, which includes countries from where people face restrictions and can only travel to Pakistan under specific NCOC guidelines as a result of the emergence of the Omicron strain in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions.

Hence, “a complete ban has been placed on direct [and] indirect inbound travel from these countries with immediate effect.”

Previously, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar took to Twitter to make the announcement. He wrote, “Based on the emergence of the new covid variant, notification has been issued [to] restrict travel from 6 South African countries and Hong Kong,” he said, adding that the “emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older”.

Extreme emergency travel protocol

The NCOC notification states that travel from the seven countries to Pakistan would be permitted “on extreme emergency”, provided that the travelers obtained the required exemptions and exercised the needed health and testing protocols.

The health and testing protocols, outlined by the notification include carrying a vaccination certificate, a negative polymerase chain reaction test taken within 72 hours prior to boarding the plane, and undergoing a rapid antigen test at the airport once the passenger has reached Pakistan. In case of a negative test result, travelers are required to home quarantine themselves for three days and undergo another rapid antigen test conducted by the civil administration on the third day. Those with positive results are required to quarantine for 10 days and undergo a polymerase chain reaction test on the 10th day.

However, the notification adds that in order to “facilitate stranded Pakistanis, travel from these countries till December 5 will be allowed without exemption[s], though the above-mentioned health and testing protocols will remain applicable”.

The NCOC also instructed the Aviation Division, the Airport Security Force, and airport management to develop a mechanism to help screen passengers traveling from the seven countries through indirect flights and share its details with all relevant departments by November 29.

The Omicron

The NCOC’s decision to ban travel from southern African nations comes after similar decisions by a host of other countries concerned about the spread of the new variant, Omicron, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified as a “highly transmissible” variant of concern. It is the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant, which is still a threat resulting in higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the US.

Earlier this week, the variant was first detected in South Africa with scientists blaming it for a recent spike in Covid-19 infections in the country’s most populated province of Gauteng.

The discovery of the new variant triggered fear through much of the world on Friday as countries rushed to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to determine the exact risks, which were largely unknown.

The United Kingdom, United States, European Union nations, Canada, Russia, and a number of other countries have restricted travel for travelers from southern Africa.

However, medical experts and bodies, including the WHO, have cautioned against any overreaction before the variant is better understood.

The story was filed by the News Desk.
The Desk can be reached at info@thecorrespondent.com.pk.

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