New Covid strain: The travel bans have sparked criticism from South Africa. (File)Riyadh:
Saudi Arabia on Friday was among countries in the Middle East and North Africa to ban travellers from several African nations due to fears over a new coronavirus variant.
The Saudi interior ministry and authorities in the United Arab Emirates said visitors from seven African countries were barred from entry.
They listed the countries as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.
The Saudi ban comprises flights to and from those countries, the official Saudi Press Agency said, quoting an interior ministry official.
It said, however, that foreign nationals from the seven countries could enter the kingdom if they had spent the previous 14 days in another country and comply with Saudi health protocols.
The official Emirati news agency WAM said the UAE ban would go into effect on Monday and was only for travellers coming from those African countries, regardless of the airline, and included transit passengers.
Bahrain announced similar measures targeting six African countries, including South Africa, the official BNA news agency said.
Jordan's interior ministry, acting on recommendations from the health ministry, also announced a ban for non-Jordanian travellers coming from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.
The North African kingdom of Morocco banned travellers from those same countries due to fears over the new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa.
A slew of nations, including the United States and European countries, have announced similar bans, sparking criticism from South Africa.
"We believe that some of the reactions have been unjustified," South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters.
The UN's World Health Organization on Friday declared the recently discovered B.1.1.529 strain of Covid-19 to be a variant of concern, renaming it Omicron.
The variant has been blamed for a surge in fresh cases in South Africa, but has already cropped up in Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel and Botswana.
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