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People travelling to Ireland from 7 southern African nations will need pre-flight PCR and home quarantine

Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands are among countries to have already banned visitors from South Africa.

A plan landing at Düsseldorf International Airport in Germany
A plan landing at Düsseldorf International Airport in Germany
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 26th 2021, 6:35 PM

PEOPLE TRAVELLING TO Ireland from seven southern African nations will have to get a pre-flight PCR test to fly into Ireland, and take part in 10-day mandatory quarantine ‘at home’, which will end if they receive two negative PCR tests.

These rules apply regardless of vaccination status.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News this evening, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “The advice for our residents who are in the seven countries is to return as soon as possible and to comply with new public-health protection measures we have here.

“Probably the most important of those are a pre-flight PCR, regardless of your vaccine status, and when you come back, mandatory home quarantine with two PCR tests. The home quarantine would be for 10 days, assuming the second test is not detected.” 

Gardaí are to police the mandatory home quarantine, he said.

The Government is also considering reintroducing Mandatory Hotel Quarantine, and will introduce legislation to the Dáil next week in case that system needs to be reintroduced.

Ireland doesn’t have any direct flights to the seven nations affected by the travel restrictions: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also changed its travel advisory to “avoid non-essential travel” to these countries.

No cases of this new variant have been detected in Ireland yet; Donnelly said genome sequencing of Covid-19 cases linked to these countries will now commence.

This evening, the World Health Organisation officially designated the latest strain of Covid-19 as a “variant of concern”, naming it the Omicron variant.

EU needs to ‘act swiftly’

Earlier today, the EU told member states that they should suspend all air travel between their nations and countries that have been linked to the new Covid-19 variant.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says EU countries should restrict travel from southern African countries and that any travellers from those countries should be quarantined.

“It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united,” von der Leyen said in a briefing.

“The European Commission has proposed to member states to activate the emergency brake on travel from countries in southern Africa and other countries affected to limit the spread of the new variant,” she said.

Case of the variant found in Belgium

Belgium has become the first European country to announce a case of the variant, which scientists in South Africa formally identified yesterday evening.

The country’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told a media conference: “We have a case that is now confirmed of this variant.”

The Belgian case was confirmed in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.

The infected person tested positive on 22 November and had not had Covid-19 before, the health minister said.

A leading Belgian virologist, Marc Van Ranst, tweeted that the person had returned from Egypt on 11 November.

“So, total precaution but don’t panic,” Vandebroucke said of Europe’s restrictions, adding that Belgium’s Covid-19 risk assessment group was analysing the situation.

What we know about B.1.1.529

The new variant is a concern, according to scientists, because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out.

Scientists are monitoring it for possible changes that it could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa.

Restrictions across Europe

A fourth wave of Covid-19 is hitting the 27-nation EU especially badly, with governments scrambling to tighten restrictions in an attempt to contain the spread.

Italy is banning visitors from southern Africa over the new variant, while Germany will ban most travel from South Africa and neighbouring nations except for German nationals.

Germany’s acting health minister Jens Spahn said they will need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival even if they are vaccinated.

“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” he said.

Italy’s ban applies to people who have been in in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Swaziland in the past fortnight.

Austria, Czech Republic and the Netherlands followed suit in saying they would impose travel restrictions.

The bans all included South Africa and in many cases some or all of its neighbouring countries.

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The UK has also announced that it is banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries from noon today and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a Covid-19 test.

Restrictions elsewhere in the world

Singapore and Malaysia said they would restrict arrivals from seven African countries. 

Meanwhile, Israel has confirmed that it has identified a case of the variant in a person who returned from Malawi.

Two more cases were detected in in Israel in “people returning from abroad”, who were placed in quarantine.

The three people were all vaccinated, Israel’s health ministry said, without specifying the number of doses or the type of vaccine they had been given.

The United States announced that it is restricting travel from eight southern African countries from Monday: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – the latter of which is not on Ireland’s or the UK’s list.

There are currently four variants of concern: Alpha, Beta (which was first documented in South Africa), Gamma and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta.

There are also two variants of interest: Lambda and Mu. 

With reporting by AFP and updated by Gráinne Ní Aodha and Lauren Boland.

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