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FILE PHOTO - Passengers queue up to leave South Africa at Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport. [File photo: AP]
Switzerland has banned direct flights from southern Africa and imposed restrictions on people entering from other countries following the discovery of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus.
The Omicron (previously known as B.1.1.529) variant is causing alarm worldwide because it displays a greater number of mutations than other variants.
“All direct flights from the region of southern Africa are banned,” read a Swiss government statement on Friday. “When entering from the South Africa region, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium [where cases have been detected], all persons must also present a negative Covid-19 test from November 26, 2021, 8pm and be in quarantine for ten days.”
“All flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are banned for an indefinite period.” Special permits will be issued to repatriate Swiss citizens or residents who are currently in these danger zones.
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Switzerland’s flight ban response to these countries mirrored that of the European Union on Friday. Other countries around the world are also imposing their own travel bans or restrictions on countries that have seen Omicron outbreaks.
At 8pm on November 27, the Swiss health authorities added the following countries to its list of countries with a variant of concern – Czech Republic, Egypt, Malawi, Netherlands and United Kingdom. The health office website states that “anyone entering Switzerland from these countries must present a negative test result and quarantine for ten days. This also applies to vaccinated and recovered persons”.
Quarantine requirements could be extended to other countries in which the new variant appears, but for the time being this will not apply for neighbouring countries.
Booster jabs extended
Also on Friday, the Swiss authorities recommended Covid-19 booster jabs for everyone over the age of 16 in light of rising numbers of infections.
Booster jabs had previously only been available for the over-65 age group or younger people with underlying health issues.
The Federal Office of Public Health and the Federal Commission for Vaccines issued a joint statementExternal link saying that boosters should cover a wider section of the population.
This advice follows clearance from the medicines regulator Swissmedic to issue boosters for younger people. The Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine has been cleared for people aged 16 or over while the Moderna vaccine can be used for anyone aged 18 or over.
While younger people are less at risk of serious reactions to Covid-19, they are still capable of spreading the virus if infected, the statement read.
Some 350,000 vulnerable people have already received booster jabs.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Switzerland has been rising significantly since mid-October. On Friday, 8,032 new cases were reported, 50% higher than the level early last week. The numbers are doubling every two weeks.