December 23, 2020 | aviation

Iraq approves flight bans, border closures to fight 'new strain' of coronavirus


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Flights from Iraq to eight countries are to grind to a halt after the Council of Ministers decided on a series of measures to prevent the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus in the country, according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

Iraq will ban flights to eight of the countries currently worst-affected by the coronavirus – Britain, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Iran and Japan. Other countries could be added to the list at a later date, the prime minister's office statement said.

Non-Iraqis will not be allowed to fly into the country from any of the eight countries, according to the statement, while Iraqis flying in from those countries will be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

All of Iraq's land border crossings will be closed, the statement said, 'except for emergency cases'. Omar al-Waaili, the head of the Iraqi border crossing board, told state media that the ban will not apply to commercial traffic.

The statement did not say when the measures would take effect.

While the operation of flights to and from the Kurdistan Region is determined by the Iraqi Civil Aviation Agency, it is not yet known whether Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) border authorities will adhere to the land cross-border travel ban.

Coronavirus fears have grown worldwide with the announcement of a new variant of the virus moving through the United Kingdom, as well as other countries in Europe and Australia.

There is not yet any concrete proof that the new variant of the virus is more dangerous than the existing strain,Who has said.

Countries other than Iraq have also moved to completely or partially shut down land and air travel to prevent spread of the coronavirus at home.

Other measures approved by Iraq's cabinet include the closure of all 'social facilities' including restaurants and malls for a period of two weeks beginning on December 24.

The cabinet also approved a $3 million dollar installment to be paid to Pfizer for 1.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, whose purchase was announced by an Iraqi health ministry spokesperson last night.

The remaining cost of the 1.5 million doses of the vaccine is approximately $12 million, according to the prime minister's office statement. The doses are set to arrive in Iraq in early 2021.

The KRG said yesterday that it would be 'closely monitoring' the health of all passengers travelling directly or indirectly from the UK to prevent “any potential rise” of a new variant of the coronavirus.

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