Philippines halts flights from South Africa, other countries over COVID-19 variant worries

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Philippines halts flights from South Africa, other countries over COVID-19 variant worries
A passenger sits alone at the NAIA Terminal 1 on May 3, 2020 after a suspension of international flights.
The STAR / Rudy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines suspended inbound international flights from South Africa and six other countries until December 15 over concerns about a new COVID-19 variant.

According to acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles, the government’s pandemic task force approved the suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa and Botswana due to the threat of the B.1.1.529 variant, which was classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

The government is now locating travelers from these countries who arrived in the Philippines in the recent seven days prior to the temporary suspension of inbound travel.

“These travelers shall be required to undergo full 14-day facility-based quarantine with RT-PCR test on the 7th day or upon location of the passenger, whichever is later, with the date of arrival as Day 1,” Nograles said.

The IATF also restricted travel from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique, which are adjacent to South Africa and Botswana.

Those who visited any of these countries before their arrival will also be temporarily barred from entering the Philippines.

Passengers already in transit and those who have been to these countries within 14 days, who arrive before November 28, will not be barred entry. But they need to undergo two-week quarantine, regardless of a negative RT-PCR result.

“All passengers, whether Filipinos or foreigners, merely transiting through the abovementioned countries shall not be deemed as having come from or having been to the said country if they stayed in the airport the entire time and were not cleared for entry into such country by its immigration authorities,” Nograles said.

The Philippines joined a growing list of countries that have implemented travel curbs to keep out the variant first discovered in South Africa, which is feared to be more resistant to vaccines.

WHO renamed the recently-detected B.1.1.529 “Omicron.”

The government's imposition of travel restrictions comes as it prepares to welcome back foreign tourists.

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