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Omicron: Romania plans to evacuate 90 Europeans stranded in South Africa

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By AFP  with Euronews
Schedule flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town have been cancelled.
Schedule flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town have been cancelled.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Romania is set to help evacuate dozens of Europeans stranded in South Africa.

A repatriation plane left Bucharest on Monday morning to bring home 40 Romanian citizens who are trapped in the area.

It comes as Europe restricts flights from southern Africa after the detection of the new COVID variant Omicron.

The flight will also offer to carry 50 Europeans, according to the head of Romania's Department for Emergency Situations, Raed Arafat.

Arafat said there were a total of 90 seats on the aircraft to safely repatriate European nationals "within the framework of the European Civil Protection Mechanism".

The EU mechanism aims to coordinate and pool countries' responses to disasters and emergencies.

A number of countries have closed their borders over Omicron. On Monday, the World Health Organization said the variant posed a "very high risk" globally.

Among the Romanian citizens waiting to leave South Africa are 31 players and staff of a rugby team, who were playing in an international tournament.

The Romanian foreign ministry said in a statement that it was in contact with 39 Romanians -- including "tourists and members of a sports delegation" -- who wanted to return to Romania after their flights were suspended.

The repatriation plane should return to Bucharest on Wednesday, according to transport minister Sorin Grindeanu.