EU to consider easing Omicron travel restrictions imposed on Southern Africa

As fears about the Omicron variant fade, EU health ministers are expected to explore easing bans.

On Tuesday, European health ministers are expected to discuss whether it would be advisable to adjust the travel restrictions imposed on sub-Saharan Africa countries in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant. Shortly after the first cases of the new variant were confirmed, countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy where some of the very first to impose restrictions on travellers from the region in an attempt to combat the spread of the virus. The ban, which was lambasted by the African Union and the World Health Organization, affected six sub-Saharan African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The measures were also criticized by the South African government.

According to the EU diplomat familiar with the matter, one of the options being considered is the requirement of a PCR test for vaccinated third-country nationals from the region. Since the first case was detected almost two weeks ago, South Africa has seen its daily cases soar to levels not seen in months. By Friday last week, the number of new cases had reached 16,000, and the new variant has been largely blamed for the surge. This has prompted fears that new restrictions are soon to follow for the country, as it prepares for the festive season which usually involved extensive inter-provincial travel. As cases soar, President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to meet with the National Coronavirus Command Council during week to discuss the way forward, including the possibility of mandatory vaccines.