French authorities announced on Wednesday that flights from South Africa and six other southern African countries could resume after Saturday with "an extremely reinforced protocol", for French nationals. New restrictions have also been announced for other international travellers arriving in France.
"We have extended the suspension of flights from seven southern African countries until Saturday" due to the spread of the Omicron variant, announced the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, on Wednesday 1 December on RTL radio.
He also announced "an extremely reinforced protocol [...], which we are in the process of defining in coordination with our European partners in order to be more effective" and which will be put in place as soon as flights resume.
It means "tests on arrival, tests on departure, isolation", said Beaune.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that France will start allowing flights from southern Africa to land on its territory from Saturday, but allowing only French and EU residents to disembark, along with diplomats and flight crews.
These travellers must have a Covid test upon arrival, with a negative result still requiring a seven-day quarantine, while a positive test will require a 10-day quarantine, Attal said.
Tests for everyone
In a further development, Attal announced new general restrictions for travellers entering French territory from outside the European union.
As for Wednesday, visitors from outside the European Union must provide a negative Covid test carried out within 48 hours before arrival, regardless if they are vaccinated or not.
For those arriving from other EU member states, a test within the past 24 hours will be required for unvaccinated people.
"The health situation is rapidly deteriorating," Attal told the press, pointing to the sudden spike in the number of cases.
Some 47,177 new cases of Covid-19 were detected in one day in France, according to data published Tuesday by Santé publique France. This represents an average of 32,116 cases per day over the past seven days.
13 cases of the suspected Omicron variant have been detected so far in France, Attal said.
'Travel bans unnecessary'
The first case of the Omicron variant was confirmed in France earlier this week. A man in his fifties who had travelled to southern Africa on a business trip was diagnosed positive on his return to the French territory of Reunion Island.
In a technical note published on Tuesday 30 November, the WHO considers travel bans unnecessary to contain the spread of the Omicron variant. But the organisation advises vulnerable people to postpone travel to high-risk areas.
Several governments in southern Africa deem the travel bans rushed and unjust, and South Africa said it felt "punished" for sounding the alarm. The country's health minister has described the bans as "draconian".