US carriers, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have no plans at this stage to revise their US-South Africa routes at this stage.
Delta said in a short statement on its website that it was aware of reports from White House officials about restrictions to take effect early next week – following news of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 – that will restrict foreign nationals from entering the United States if they have been in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi and Eswatini 14 days prior to travel.
“Delta currently operates service between Johannesburg, South Africa and our Atlanta hub three times weekly. There are no planned adjustments to service at this time,” the statement reads.
The airline further advised that customers who originated in North America that may need to change their travel plans can do so without change fees via delta.com or the Fly Delta App.
A United spokesperson told Tourism Update that the airline was monitoring how the new travel restrictions to Africa may impact demand. “United remains committed to maintaining a safe and vital link for essential supplies and personnel to transit between the African continent and the United States as feasible. We don’t have any adjustments to our schedule at this time.”
The United statement continued: “United currently operates five flights per week between New York/Newark and Johannesburg. United plans to restart the service between Newark and Cape Town on December 1 as scheduled.”
WHO cautions against travel bans
The WHO declared Omicron as a “variant of concern” but cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, saying they should take a "risk-based and scientific approach".
"At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against," WHO spokesperson, Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva yesterday (Friday, November 26). "The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures."
The WHO will share further guidance for governments on action they can take, he said.
US/Canada take ‘precautionary measures’
Despite the WHO’s caution, the US and Canada – along with a growing list of countries across the globe – decided to err on the side of caution, with both announcing travel restrictions against South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Eswatini, Lesotho, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
“This morning (Friday, November 26) I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa
“As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on (Monday) November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises,” said US President Joe Biden.
In an interview with CNN, Fauci said US scientists were working closely with South Africa’s scientists to better understand the variant.
Canadian Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, also announced that the country had closed borders to foreign travellers who have recently been to the seven Southern African nations to help stop the spread of a newly identified variant of COVID-19.
Duclos said Canada was acting quickly to protect the health of its citizens. Foreign citizens will be banned from Canada if they have been to the seven nations in the last 14 days.
Canadians returning to Canada will need to be tested before being allowed back in. Any Canadian citizen or permanent resident who has been to the countries in question and is already back in Canada will have to take a COVID-19 test and then go into quarantine for 14 days.