Colombia extends health emergency citing new coronavirus variant

FILE PHOTO: People wait in a recovery room after receiving their first dose of the AztraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the Colombian government begins the vaccination campaign for people between 20 and 24 years old, in the newspaper library of the National University in Bogota, Colombia August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will extend its health state of emergency until Feb. 28 due to the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in South Africa, the Andean country's President Ivan Duque said on Saturday.

The health emergency "is extended due to the existence of a global declaration concerning the status of the pandemic as well as allowing us to continue taking all precautionary measures," Duque said from Monteria, a city in the country's province of Cordoba.

The state of emergency was due to lift at the end of November.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday declared the B.1.1.529 detected in South Africa as a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern."

The discovery of the variant, known as named Omicron, prompted countries around the world to place travel bans on flights from South Africa and some of its regional neighbors.

Colombia has no direct flights with Africa, Duque said, adding that anyone traveling from the continent to the South American country will have to transit through the United States, Brazil, or the European Union, which have already imposed restrictions.

"This measure has an additional element of protection for us as well," he said.

Anyone who has been in Africa in the last 15 days who report symptoms must contact Colombian authorities and self isolate, Duque said.

Colombia has reported more than 5 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, as well as over 128,300 deaths, according to the government.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; editing by Diane Craft)

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