EU sources say no immediate plan for easing Omicron travel curbs on southern Africa

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FILE PHOTO: International check-in counters stand empty at O.R. Tambo International Airport after several airlines stopped flying out of South Africa because of the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant

(Reuters) - European Union health ministers will discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of the Omicron variant on Tuesday, but are not expected to make any decision on easing travel restrictions, three sources told Reuters.

Late in November, EU states agreed to impose travel curbs on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant, which is considered highly infectious.

Bloomberg News, citing one diplomat familiar with the matter, reported on Monday that EU health ministers at a meeting on Tuesday may agree on the need for a PCR test for vaccinated third-country nationals from that region, which could allow some travel bans to be eased or lifted within a week.

The travel ban "was meant always as a time-limited measure", one senior EU official told Reuters, adding however that there was no plan at the moment to lift it. "We are not yet working in that direction."

Another two EU sources familiar with the work of health ministers said no decision on travel bans was expected at Tuesday's meeting.

Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are the southern African countries that have been targeted.

South Africa has criticised the travel ban which it said penalised the country for having the expertise to first identify the variant. The United States, Britain and many other countries imposed bans similar to those of the EU.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by John Chalmers and Nick Macfie)

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