The new Omicron COVID-19 variant is concerning scientists, prompting countries and airlines to impose travel restrictions from a number of African nations.
On Friday, Doha-based Qatar Airways tweeted that it will not allow passengers to board flights from South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The carrier provided additional information on its website.”Passengers who are booked on Qatar Airways flights from airports in either country, including Johannesburg (JNB), Capetown (CPT), Durban (DUR), and Harare (HRE), will not be accepted for travel until further notice,” Qatar said.
According to data from FlightAware, a Qatar flight that was scheduled to depart Johannesburg for Doha on Friday at 9:35 p.m. took off at 1:00 a.m. local time. Qatar did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the delayed flight.
On its website, the airline clarified it will still transport passengers to South Africa and Zimbabwe “in line with current restrictions.”
Zimbabwe and South Africa were added to Qatar’s list of “Exceptional Red List Countries” on Friday, though the country still allows vaccinated travelers from both nations to enter Qatar with a 2-day quarantine, according to its Ministry of Public Health.
The decision follows the World Health Organization’s increasing concern that the new COVID-19 variant is more transmissible.
On Friday, the WHO designed the Omicron variant, B.1.1.529, a “variant of concern,” and countries like the US, UK, and the Netherlands are tackling the mutated virus with an aggressive ban on passengers from places like South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The variant was first detected by researchers in South Africa on November 9 and was reported to the WHO on November 24.
“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern,” the WHO said on Friday.
Earlier Friday, two KLM flights bound for Amsterdam from Cape Town and Johannesburg were not allowed to deplane after landing, the airline and airport both confirmed. The passengers were eventually allowed off the plane where they were shuttled to receive a mandatory COVID-19 test.