‘Absolute chaos’ in South Africa as flights grounded over Omicron

Johannesburg, South Africa – Disbelief and confusion washed over South Africa because the announcement of the invention of the Omicron COVID-19 variant grounded flights and raised fears of a tough lockdown in Africa’s most developed financial system.

Flights from the nation to the United States, United Kingdom, and nations in Europe had been swiftly banned after South African scientists formally introduced the invention of the virus pressure on Thursday.

“This is absolute chaos. Nobody can tell us what is possible in terms of travel at this point,” stated Steve Lawrence, a stranded traveller at OR Tambo, certainly one of Africa’s busiest airports.

“Things are changing by the minute and we are left in the lurch. We had planned to stay in the United States for the month of December – and now we are stuck.”

Daily coronavirus infections have risen 13-fold since early November with 3,220 new instances reported on Saturday. Eight deaths introduced the full to 89,791 in South Africa for the reason that onset of the pandemic.

About 600 passengers on two KLM flights from Johannesburg to Amsterdam had been left stranded on the runway at Schiphol Airport after panic set in following the announcement.

“Its naïve for developed countries to believe they can stop the spread of this variant with a blanket ban on countries in southern Africa. The virus has already found its way into these societies from individuals that haven’t even travelled to or come into contact with anyone from southern Africa,” Shabir Madhi, a South African vaccinologist, advised Al Jazeera.

“The fact it was discovered here does not make it a South African variant – it was merely discovered here. In South Africa we have one of the globe’s best COVID sequencing capacities based on our experience with treating HIV and TB. We have been ahead of the game for a while now and we are thus a victim of our success.”

The abrupt grounding of flights has spooked the tourism business with reserving cancellations growing immediately following the announcement.

“I’m absolutely shellshocked. When we woke up on Friday morning everything was fine – now within 48 hours we have been banned and we are experiencing multiple cancellations,” Manuela Pallamer, proprietor at Mziki Safari lodge within the North West province, advised Al Jazeera.

The South African tourism sector misplaced out on $10bn in bookings in 2020 due to a drop in international guests, and is estimated to lose about $10m each week flights are suspended from key abroad vacationer markets.

“We have a good local tourist market but if all of our foreign tourists cancel we’ll be truly devastated,” Pallamer added.

A petroleum attendant stands subsequent to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa, on Saturday. [Denis Farrell/AP]

‘Horrible repeat’

The South African tourism sector is among the principal employers within the nation, offering 4.5 % of your complete inhabitants with a job and provides as much as Three % of the gross home product (GDP) yearly.

“This feels like the horrible repeat of a terrible movie,” Franck Leya from Honest Travel Experience advised Al Jazeera.

“This industry was just beginning to come out of this crisis and two years later we still don’t have a solution to this virus and it’s affecting us all over again.”

Lobbying to elevate the ban started furiously after the announcement of flight restrictions with the South African authorities and the personal sector decrying being “punished for telling the truth”.

The Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) stated it was working with South Africa’s authorities to have the bans lifted or problem them within the courts.

“We are not going to lie down and just let it happen to us,” Rosemary Anderson, FEDHASA chairperson, advised Al Jazeera.

“As an industry we are going to work with government and other industry bodies to legally challenge this. We believe we will be able to talk scientifically to show the UK and other countries that this does not make sense and is not OK.”

The South African authorities stated any travel bans on the nation had been “misdirected” because the World Health Organization (WHO) additionally known as for calm.

“New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of those cases have had no recent links with southern Africa,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla advised a information convention on Friday.

“We feel some of the leadership of countries are finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem.”

South Africa is now bracing for stricter native COVID restrictions, too, with President Cyril Ramaphosa set to handle the nation on Sunday night after assembly with the nation’s coronavirus command council.

South Africa beforehand carried out one of many strictest lockdowns on the earth, imposing the whole ban of the sale of alcohol and cigarettes and proscribing inter-provincial travel.

Only 23.eight % of the South African inhabitants has been totally vaccinated whereas the common for the remainder of the continent is simply 7 %.

“If government wants higher restrictions they are deliberately ignoring their effects – lockdowns have not prevented infections. It has only slowed them down,” stated Madhi.

“If another one is implemented it will be a political decision not a scientific one. Any action needs to be measured and pragmatic and focused on areas where medical resources are coming under pressure from an increase in infections.”