Dubai-based Emirates has suspended flights to three African countries until further notice. In a statement, the Gulf State carrier announced that it will be suspending flights to and from South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe from Saturday, November 27.
In the travel advisory, Emirates says that any ticketed passengers who were due to fly to or from southern Africa to Dubai should call Emirates immediately. Alternatively, they can hold onto their tickets and contact Emirates once flights to the region resume.
The UAE bans people from seven African countries
The move by Emirates to suspend flights follows the United Arab Emirates (UAE) decision to ban entry into the country from seven nations:
- South Africa
- Eswatini (Swaziland)
The ban has been implemented over concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus that the World Health Organization has named “Omicron.” UAE’s neighbors, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have also banned all flights from the above countries and say that the ban will remain in place until more is known about the new strain.
Israel has banned foreigners
Fears of the virulence of the new strain and how effective current vaccines are against it have prompted Israel to issue a 14-day travel ban on foreigners entering the country. Israeli citizens can return but must quarantine upon their arrival.
There is currently a shortage of real-world data about the new COVID-19 variant. Despite not having firm scientific evidence to back up decisions, governments have been forced to act, fearing doing nothing may be far worse.
However, we know that Omicron has many more mutations than the previous Delta variant. This means that, in theory at least, it is more contagious, a trait that has been observed in South Africa.
Critically, the current vaccines that have been developed to tackle the virus may be less effective because of these mutations. Two other things that are not yet known about Omicron are how transmissible it is and whether or not it is milder or more severe than former variants of the virus.
Do we need a new vaccine?
The current COVID-19 vaccines were developed to train the body to attack the spike protein in the original strain. The antibodies that the vaccine gives recipients work similarly to how a NASCAR pit crew services the car. In the case of Omicron, though, the parts of the vehicle are all in different places making the mechanic’s job even more difficult.
Drug companies say that they can adapt the current vaccines to fight against Omicron, but it will take time. For now, they recommend giving people a booster shot of the current vaccines even if they aren’t tailored. While it is still too early to know whether governments are over or under-reacting to the threat of Omicron, they cannot just do nothing, and in the end, the correct answer will only come with hindsight.
Given that the UAE banned people on flights from southern Africa from entering the country, Emirates had no choice but to suspend flights.
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