Travel restrictions as new Covid-19 variant emerges

By Will Trafford
Above: World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove explains why Omicron has been designated a 'Variant of Concern' (VOC)

The discovery of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant in Southern Africa has seen the government classify nine countries as 'very high risk', leveling new travel restrictions from the region.

Travel of non-NZ citizens from Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique to NZ is now on hold while kiwis traveling home from either of the nine countries will have to undergo an extended 14-day MIQ stay.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced the changes Saturday, after a review into what little is currently known about the new variant of Covid-19. Hipkins saying he's confident the new strain has not yet arrived in Aotearoa.

'Several hundred border cases have been identified in managed isolation in recent months and whole genome sequencing, which is undertaken routinely on all border-related cases, has shown that all have been the Delta variant' he said.

The World Health Organisation says preliminary evidence suggests Omicron (B.1.1.529 variant) carries a 'higher risk of re-infection than other variants of concern' with the group designating it a variant 'of concern'.

Australia closed its borders to the nine African countries earlier today after a person in a Northern Territory quarantine facility who arrived from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19. Genomic testing is underway to ascertain if it is the Omicron variant.

The government's latest move comes amid 145 new community cases on Saturday. The country also registered its 42nd Covid-related death, a person in their 80s who died in Auckland Hospital.