Passengers who boarded a Qatar Airways flight in Harare over the weekend, became some of the first to be affected by the unilateral ban on travellers from Southern Africa imposed mainly by European countries and the United States.
It is understood that the Qatar Airways crew was told while in Lusaka, Zambia, picking up other passengers that travellers from five Southern African countries including South Africa and Zimbabwe, were barred from boarding the planes until there was clarity on the B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant.
The variant was first detected in South Africa.
Sources say upon receiving information to leave Zimbabwean travellers, the flight then turned back to Harare and dropped the passengers.
Travellers that had pressing commitments in Europe and the US are said to have used other airlines and went via Tanzania with the hope of connecting to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then Europe or the US.
Although not many of the sources were keen to be quoted for professional reasons, they confirmed that a Qatar Airways flight was forced to return to Harare and drop off passengers.
Airports Company of Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Tawanda Gusha, told The Herald last night that the incident happened.
Asked to comment on the implications of that, Mr Gusha said: “I don’t think it affects the Airports Company (of Zimbabwe) alone, but the whole nation. So a comment is better off from the national level.”
Efforts to get a comment from Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu were fruitless as he was not picking his mobile phone.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe immediate past president Mr Clive Chinwada referred questions to New president Mr Farai Chimba, whose mobile phone was unreachable.
In a statement on Saturday, Qatar Airways said: “Due to the recent emergence of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant, and with immediate effect, Qatar Airways will no longer be accepting passengers travelling from five Southern African countries in our global network.
“However, we will continue to accept passengers for travel into these countries in-line with current restrictions.
Passengers who are booked on Qatar Airways flights from seven destinations, Luanda (LAD), Angola; Maputo (MPM), Mozambique; Johannesburg (JNB), Capetown (CPT), Durban (DUR), South Africa; Lusaka (LUN), Zambia and Harare (HRE), Zimbabwe, will not be accepted for travel until further notice.
“These restrictions will remain in place until we receive further guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO). We will continue to review the situation on a daily basis as new information becomes available.”