Travellers have been left stranded after flights to and from some countries in Southern Africa were grounded after the announcement of the discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Omicron was detected in South Africa on 25 November. In response to the announcement, the United States, the United Kingdom, and nations in Europe swiftly banned flights to South Africa.

Steve Lawrence, a stranded traveller at OR Tambo, one of Africa’s busiest airports said he had planned to travel to the USA. He said:

This is absolute chaos. Nobody can tell us what is possible in terms of travel at this point.

Things are changing by the minute and we are left in the lurch. We had planned to stay in the United States for the month of December — and now we are stuck.

About 600 passengers on two KLM flights from Johannesburg to Amsterdam were left stranded on the runway at Schiphol Airport after panic set in following the announcement.

Shabir Madhi, a South African vaccinologist said it is naive for developed countries to believe they can stop the spread of this variant with a blanket ban on countries in southern Africa. He added:

The virus has already found its way into these societies from individuals that haven’t even travelled to or come into contact with anyone from southern Africa.

The fact it was discovered here does not make it a South African variant — it was merely discovered here.

In South Africa we have one of the globe’s best Covid sequencing capacities based on our experience with treating HIV and TB. We have been ahead of the game for a while now and we are thus a victim of our success.

The abrupt grounding of flights has spooked the tourism industry with booking cancellations increasing directly following the announcement.