In the wake of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, Rwanda has become the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to impose a ban on inbound and outbound flights to southern African countries.
Last week, the new variant was first reported in South Africa, and cases have since been discovered in several countries, prompting many governments to reimpose flight restrictions.
Dr. Édouard Ngirente, Rwanda’s prime minister, said in a press statement that “direct flights between Rwanda and southern Africa are temporarily suspended” following an extraordinary Cabinet meeting.
Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are among the countries affected by the ban.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global warning on Monday, stating that the new variant poses a “very high” risk.
Even if the new strain proves to be less deadly than previous strains, it is possible that it will put more strain on hospitals if it spreads more quickly, according to the report.
“If another major Covid-19 surge is triggered by Omicron, the consequences could be severe,” the WHO warned in a technical note, adding that “to date, no deaths linked to the Omicron variant have been reported.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa protested the “unjustified” travel bans on Sunday and demanded that they be lifted immediately.
“We demand that all countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries reverse their decisions immediately and urgently,” Ramaphosa said.
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, for his part, blamed Western countries for closing their borders on “Afrophobia.”
Border closures have also been warned against by the head of the WHO in Africa.
In a statement, WHO regional director general Matshidiso Moeti said, “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, imposing travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”