Travel ban on 8 nations tied to new variant

Travel ban on 8 nations tied to new variant

African strain prompts local hunt

Thailand will ban travellers from eight southern African countries where a new Covid-19 strain was found.

No cases of the new variant have been detected in Thailand so far, according to the Department of Disease Control.

The World Health Organization classified the B.1.1.529 strain as a "variant of concern" and named it Omicron. Scientists are trying to find out how quickly the variant can spread and if it is resistant to the Covid-19 vaccines.

The variant has already reached Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel, sparking a global alarm. The Department of Disease Control (DDC) on Saturday announced a travel ban from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, chief of DDC, said the ban will take effect on Dec 1. As of Saturday, travellers from the countries cannot register for a Thailand Pass. For those who have arrived, they must be quarantined for 14 days.

Travellers from other countries in Africa cannot join the Test & Go and Sandbox programmes as of yesterday. They must be quarantined for 14 days and need to pass three Covid-19 tests during their quarantine, he said. So far, 1,007 travellers from Africa have entered the country since reopening and none of them tested positive, he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Department of Medical Sciences, said the department is closely monitoring the new strain.

"We will take about 100 positive cases from travellers under the Sandbox scheme for whole genome sequencing to learn whether the variant has arrived in the country.

"We have already submitted 7,000 cases of whole genome sequencing under WHO recommendations. We are confident that we can find it if the variant is in the country," he said. RT-PCR tests should still work for the newly mutated Covid-19 variant.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, meanwhile, gave assurances that the government is closely monitoring updates from around the world about the B.1.1.529 variant and will change travel restrictions if necessary.

"The Ministry of Public Health keeps me posted as to how Thailand will be affected by the spread of the new variant," he wrote in a Facebook post. None of the African countries is on the list of 63 countries whose travellers are allowed to enter the kingdom without Covid-19 quarantine, he said.

The Foreign Ministry and the Tourism and Sports Ministry have been instructed to work together with the Ministry of Public Health in monitoring updates about the Omicron variant and screening visitors for it, he said.

The public should maintain standard Covid-19 control measures, including wearing a face mask, washing hands and keeping a proper distance from others, he said. Those who have yet to be vaccinated or are waiting for jabs are encouraged to come forward.

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