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EU takes southern Africa off no-travel list

The EU agreed on Monday to take southern African countries off its no-travel list, as Omicron cases in the European bloc soar, the French presidency of the European Union said.

Travellers coming from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will still have to show negative PCR tests taken no more than 72 hours earlier, in line with rules for most other countries.

“Member States have agreed this morning … to lift the emergency brake to allow air travel to resume with southern African countries,” the French presidency of the EU tweeted.

“Travellers from this area will still be subject to the health measures applicable to travellers from third countries.”

The EU’s “emergency brake” travel ban on the seven African countries was imposed on November 26, days after the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in southern Africa.

EU leaders have said the restriction was necessary to slow Omicron’s spread into Europe to give time for booster shots to be rolled out at an accelerated pace.

As of Monday, data plotted by Oxford University’s OurWorldinData project showed the latest Covid wave — exacerbated by Omicron — peaked three to four weeks ago in all the southern African countries except for Botswana, where reported cases were still rising.

In several EU countries, including Belgium, Denmark and France, Omicron has in the last couple of weeks become the dominant variant.

In most of the European Union, however, Delta is still the dominant variant but is quickly being supplanted by Omicron.

Covid cases overall are climbing swiftly across the bloc as it enters the coldest part of winter.

But hospitalisations and deaths from Covid are rising at a much reduced pace, which is attributed to widespread vaccination and booster-shot programmes.

There are still concerns, however, that national health systems in EU countries could become saturated as large numbers of people come down with Omicron, and that schools and workplaces could suffer.

Those concerns have prompted individual EU countries to impose stricter entry requirements for travellers coming in from outside the European Union.

Within the bloc, an EU Digital Covid certificate is used to facilitate travel, with an emphasis on vaccinations and boosters.