Ursula Von der Leyen recommends suspension of flights from various countries in South Africa and "other countries affected"

Portugal suspends flights to and from Mozambique due to new variant

Portugal will be suspending flights to and from Mozambique from 00.00 hours on Monday (November 29) in response to the latest concerns about a new variant of the Covid virus, spreading in South Africa.

The decision follows other measures adopted by various countries – some of them a great deal more drastic.

European Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen, for example, has urged every Member State to clamp down on flights from “countries in southern Africa and other countries affected (click here)” by activating what is dubbed the ‘emergency brake’.

“All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant”, she said yesterday – adding that ‘travellers from these regions should respect strict quarantine rules’.

Britain, Germany, Austria have already brought in travel bans affecting various African countries as the BBC describes the world this morning as “racing to control the Omicron variant” (Omicron being the Greek letter of the alphabet chosen by the World Health Organisation to identify this new mutation that previously was identified as B.1.1.529).

What no one seems to be saying – except Portugal’s own president Marcelo – is that as far as everyone can see at this moment, Omicron “is very contagious, but it is not as deadly as it is contagious”.

Continuing with his own plans to visit to Angola this weekend*, Marcelo told reporters that Portuguese authorities were fully aware of ‘Omicron’ (albeit as B.1.1.529) by the time of the last Infarmed meeting (on November 19). 

“We are now at November 26”, he said. “This (variant) is being accompanied by the European Union and right now it is premature to talk about what happens or what doesn’t happen – the conclusions to be reached, the effects whatever they are – because this would be alarming people” – which patently is what has happened: Diário de Notícias’ headline this morning declares: “Omicron, the variant that has brought new fear to the world”.

As such Portugal has been impelled to act, in response to the call from the European Commissioner.

A statement released by the ministry of internal administration last night said: “From 00.00 hours on Saturday, all passengers on flights from Mozambique (as well as from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Nambia and Zimbabwe) are required to comply with a quarantine of 14-days after entry into mainland Portugal, at home or in a place indicated by health authorities”.

And from Monday, flights to and from Mozambique will be suspended.

A reader writing to us last night said he was a little confused by the ‘big words’ from the Portuguese government.

“Yesterday (Thursday Nov 25th) I arrived for the 3rd time in about a couple of weeks in Lisbon airport (one flight from Athens and two flights from South Africa, with a stopover in Dubai with Emirates) and not even once was I checked for a negative PCR test or for a Passenger Locator Form…

“Some adequate and up-to-date control would help at least instead of all these words in the air”, he said.

In President Marcelo’s opinion, the moment is one for everyone to “take a deep breath” – not to get into a froth over what may well be being “overblown”.

Omicron could end up being “a repetition of other variants identified in South Africa”, he said, recalling that “in the other cases” the variants “were not in the end so serious”.

“The healthy authoritities have means to study this variant and control it, so does the pharmaceutical industry”, he added, stressing that he has no concerns about travelling to Angola – having recently received his third booster dose of Covid vaccine.

South Africa is, in the end, a country with “several realities”, the president concluded.

*While Portugal’s president is in Angola (he flew last night), the UK has widened its scope of ‘red list’ flight suspensions to include the African nation.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com