The Government of the Bahamas has said it will remove the travel restrictions placed on eight southern African countries last week following the discovery of the COVID-19 omicron variant, announced Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Michael Darville yesterday.
According to ewnews.com, the countries include Botswana; Eswatini (formerly Swaziland); Lesotho; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Zimbabwe; and South Africa.
The restrictions were implemented as other countries globally announced similar travel bans with early evidence suggesting the variant, which was first identified in South Africa, could have a higher re-infection risk.
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“We cannot afford to let our guard down and active discussions with our partners from the Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation are ongoing about meaningful ways to strengthen travel requirements for entry into our country.– Minister of Health & Wellness Dr Michael Darville.
The variant, however, has now been reported in 57 nations, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, more data is needed to assess the severity of the impact caused by the omicron variant and whether its mutations might reduce protection from vaccine-derived immunity.
Addressing the matter during a contribution in Parliament, Darville said: “Given the pervasiveness of the omicron variant and its purported milder nature, The Bahamas will remove associated travel restrictions imposed on African countries last weekend.
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“Having said that, we cannot afford to let our guard down and active discussions with our partners from the Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation are ongoing about meaningful ways to strengthen travel requirements for entry into our country.”
Darville said he will meet with technical advisors to finalize new testing protocols aimed at mitigating the importation of COVID-19 into the country.
There had been mounting criticisms from South African politicians and scientists, who said they felt targeted because they first discovered the variant through their advanced screening program, yet were being punished with travel bans.
Dutch health officials, however, announced last week that they found the new omicron variant had already been spreading in Western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa.
As of December 7, there were 22,859 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
The health minister noted that while it is encouraging that hospitalizations are among the lowest seen all year and the test positivity rate has been trending below the five percent benchmark, COVID-19-related deaths remain a concern.
The total number of deaths is now pegged at 705, with an additional 36 deaths under investigation.