ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday imposed a complete ban on travel from seven countries after the emergence of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa which has started spreading to other parts of the world.
Medical experts say the omicron variant of the virus is highly transmissible, causing a rapid increase in the number of new COVID-19 infections in the African state.
Media reports indicate the omicron variant has also infected South Africa's young population, making some of them require intensive care.
"Consequent to emergence of Omicron corona variant in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions, the following countries have also been included in [Category C] and complete ban has been imposed on direct/indirect inbound travel from these countries with immediate effect," said a notification circulated by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the country's central pandemic body.
The official statement named South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana, asking the aviation division to devise a mechanism for the screening of passengers traveling from these states through indirect flights.
The NCOC said the government would allow Pakistani passengers from the Category C countries to travel after obtaining emergency exemptions and following certain requirements which include a vaccination certificate, negative PCR report and rapid antigen test on arrival.
The statement added that stranded Pakistanis in these countries would be allowed to travel back until December 5 without seeking exemption, though they would have to follow the same health and testing protocols.
The NCOC has also made a three-day quarantine at home mandatory for those testing negative for the rapid antigen test on arrival.
However, any Pakistani national flying from one of these countries who tests positive for the virus will have to undergo a stricter 10-day quarantine period.
Pakistan's planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads the national pandemic response body, said in a Twitter post the emergence of the new coronavirus variant had made it "even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens [of] 12 years and older."
The country's COVID-19 positivity rate is currently less than one percent, though it reported seven deaths caused by the debilitating respiratory disease in the last 24 hours on Saturday.