The government has announced that travel to and from seven African countries will be banned due to concerns surrounding the recently discovered B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, also known as the Omicron variant.
The countries in the travel ban, are Botswana, Eswatini. Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Malaysians as well as those with a Malaysian work permit who have a travel history in any of the blacklisted countries within the last 14 days will still be allowed to enter. However, they will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine at a designated centre upon arrival as pointed by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin:
In short, the ban applies to foreign travellers with the said travel history, who won’t be allowed in Malaysia at all. These measures come as the World Health Organisation has designated the Omicron variant as a Variant Of Concern (VOC) as it has a massive amount of mutations with worrying characteristics such as a higher rate of transmissibility. The heavily mutated strain was first detected in South Africa’s Gauteng province and contains twice the number of mutations associated with the Delta variant.
Moderna is already working on an Omicron-targeted booster shot of their COVID-19 vaccine, with Pfizer, BioNTech, and AstraZeneca similarly testing to determine their vaccine’s current effectiveness against the variant. Pfizer said that it expects to have the lab results within two weeks and the company is prepared to roll out the adapted version of their jab within 100 days.
Apart from the travel ban, the Health Ministry will also enhance existing genomics surveillance and speed up the ongoing booster shots programme to combat the risks of the Omicron variant. The strain has already been detected in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel, but no such cases have been identified in Malaysia so far.
Several European countries, as well as the US, Canada, and Hong Kong, have enacted similar travel bans involving southern African nations. South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla has since responded by calling these travel restrictions “unjustified”.