Covid-19: Morocco, Saudi Arabia suspend more flights over new Omicron variant
All direct passenger flights to Morocco have been suspended for two weeks over concerns about the spread of Omicron, a new Covid-19 variant. Morocco is the latest Middle East country to enact travel restrictions in the region.
"This decision comes due to the rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus, Omicron, particularly in Europe and Africa, and in order to preserve the gains made by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and protect the health of citizens," the Interministerial Pandemic Monitoring Committee said in a statement.
An assessment of the situation "will be undertaken regularly in order to adjust, if necessary, the necessary measures," the statement added.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Interior also halted flights from and to Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius and the Comoros Islands on Sunday, owing to concerns around the spread of the Omicron strain, state news agency SPA reported on Twitter.
The kingdom on Friday suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.
However, the interior ministry also announced at the weekend that it would allow direct entry to travellers from all countries who have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine starting next Saturday. The ministry added the travellers would need to quarantine for three days.
Omicron strain concerns
The World Health Organisation declared the recently discovered Omicron strain to be a "variant of concern", spurring a series of differing travel bans from various countries.
Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan are among the Middle Eastern countries that announced bans on some travellers from several African nations this weekend after reports of the new variant.
Egypt announced on Friday that it had detected a case of the new variant in the country.
Switzerland on Saturday widened quarantine requirements to stem the spread of the Omicron variant to travellers arriving from countries where cases have been detected, including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, its health ministry said. On Friday, it banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region.
The European Union has proposed member states stop all flights to and from southern Africa following the variant's discovery, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.
The UK has also banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, asking returning travellers to quarantine.