- Qatar Airways will start flying passengers out of South Africa on 13 January, after suspending outbound services in the wake of Omicron's discovery.
- Qatar will operate 21 weekly flights, servicing Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.
- The Doha-based airline had initially hoped to resume these flights on 12 December.
- But countries in the Middle East have been slow to ease restrictions on South African travellers.
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Qatar Airways will begin flying passengers out of South Africa on 13 January after suspending outbound operations following the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant in late November.
International airlines are resuming services to and from South Africa after swiftly grounding flights in line with government-ordered travel bans. These restrictions followed a briefing by South Africa's Network for Genomic Surveillance in late November which first identified the Omicron variant.
Travel bans imposed on South Africa and neighbouring countries received stern backlash. And while some of South Africa's main travel connections, like those to the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and the Netherlands, have since reopened, Omicron-induced flight suspensions, particularly from the Middle East, remain.
The region's three major international airlines, with direct links to South Africa, include Emirates, based in Dubai, Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi, and Qatar, based at Hamad International Airport in Doha. These airports have traditionally been key transit points for South African travellers, offering connecting flights to hundreds of destinations throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.
All three airlines have restricted their operations in South Africa. Emirates and Qatar are only flying passengers into South Africa, and none out, on a reduced flight schedule.
Emirates recently extended its flight suspension, which was due to lapse at the end of 2021. Etihad is only expected to resume its operations in February.
Qatar, which was one of the only international airlines with a consistent flight schedule throughout the bulk of the pandemic, confirmed on Wednesday that it would resume passenger flights out of South Africa on 13 January. Qatar had previously hope to resume these flights on 12 December.
The Doha-based airline will resume double-daily services from Johannesburg, a daily service from Cape Town, and four weekly tagged flights to Durban as part of a 21-flight schedule.
And although Qatar will be carrying passengers out of South Africa for the first time in more than a month when it resumes its schedule, these travellers will only be allowed to transit through Hamad International Airport. Qatar offers connecting services to around 140 destinations worldwide.
The Qatari ministry of public health categorises South Africa as a "red list" country, which requires foreign travellers, even if fully vaccinated, to quarantine for at least two days, pending the outcome of a post-arrival PCR test.
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)
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