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PH suspends flights from S. Africa, Botswana amid fears on COVID-19 variant

/ 09:36 PM November 26, 2021
Inbound flights from South Africa and Botswana have been temporarily suspended amid fears about the COVID-19 B.1.1.529 variant, the national government’s pandemic task force said.

FILE PHOTO: A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

MANILA, Philippines — Inbound flights from South Africa and Botswana have been temporarily suspended amid fears about the COVID-19 B.1.1.529 variant, the national government’s pandemic task force said.

According to acting presidential spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) decided on Friday to suspend the inbound flights along with other countries where the spread of the B.1.1.529 variant may happen.

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Other countries included in the temporary ban are countries adjacent to South Africa and Botswana, like Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

Under the IATF regulations, the travel ban would last until December 15.

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“[IATF] approved on Friday, November 26, 2021, the temporary suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa, Botswana, and other countries with local cases or with the likelihood of occurrences of the B.1.1.1529 variant. This shall take effective immediately and until 15 December 2021,” Nograles said.

READ: South Africa detects new COVID-19 variant, implications not yet clear 

READ: South Africa detects new COVID variant with many mutations 

Nograles said that the Bureau of Quarantine and local government units have been directed to trace travelers who may have come in the country in the last seven days for monitoring.

“The Bureau of Quarantine, in close coordination with our local government units, has been directed to locate travelers from the abovementioned countries who may have arrived in the recent 7 days prior to the temporary suspension of inbound travel,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Similarly, passengers who have gone to the countries mentioned in the last 14 days are also barred from entering the Philippines, except if they are already in transit and arrive before 12:01 a.m. of November 28.

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On the other hand, passengers who are merely using the countries to move to another place — which means staying in airports within these cities — will not be considered as people coming from these areas.

“Passengers already in transit from the abovementioned countries and all those who have been to the same within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines, who arrive before 12:01AM of November 28, 2021, shall not be barred from entry, but shall be required to undergo stricter quarantine and testing protocols such as the observation of an absolute facility-based 14-day quarantine period, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR result,” Nograles said.

“Meanwhile, 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,” he added.

The B.1.1.529 is a variant that stemmed from the African continent, which has caused concern for having a high number of mutations.

Earlier, the United Kingdom among other countries raised alarm over the potential spread of the B.1.1.529 variant, which some early studies say could be the worst one yet.

This is due to a different spike protein observed in the other variants, and has more mutations than the Delta variant — which caused a surge in cases in the Philippines last August and September.

READ: UK raises alarm over new South Africa COVID variant which could beat vaccines 

READ: Concerned by new variant, Asian countries move to tighten COVID measures 

JPV

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