The health ministry in the Republic of Cyprus has issued a ban on all foreign travelers from specific African countries citing a new coronavirus variant, as the government accelerates efforts to check whether any possible Omicron cases may have found their way into the island.
A press release on Friday by the health ministry said the government decided to ban the entry of foreign passengers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana due to the new coronavirus variant SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529.
The new mutation known as Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on Wednesday, with the global agency describing it as a variant of concern.
But Cypriot citizens and immediate family members as well as EU citizens and permanent residents can still be admitted on conditions, such as having been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, taking rapid tests before and after arrival if aged 12 and above, and entering quarantine in government-designated lodging for ten days.
According to local media, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said there had been no Omicron cases detected so far in Cyprus.
Cypriot epidemiologist Michalis Voniatis said time was still needed to evaluate the situation, telling state radio on Saturday morning there was 'no need for the media to cause panic'
But the latest results for suspected new variants were based on sequencing and analysis of samples taken between October and mid-November.
Earlier this year concerns over delays in Cypriot officials getting back confirmation results from the ECDC on Delta variants caused debate among local experts, when it was reported that any advice on potential measures was a few weeks late concerning undetected cases of variants already within the community.
But on Friday Cypriot officials said a lab in molecular virology of the University of Cyprus and a private lab were collaborating more closely with ECDC labs for faster results.
Countries across Europe and Asia are also rushing to impose restrictions in response to Omicron. European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen on Friday said that the EU would propose to stop air travel from the southern African region in view of the emergence of the variant.
South African scientists pointed to a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, arguing the strain might help the bug evade the body’s immune system.
Cypriot epidemiologist Michalis Voniatis said time was still needed to evaluate the situation, telling state radio on Saturday morning there was “no need for the media to cause panic” over the reports.