SAN DIEGO — San Diego’s South African community is feeling the effects of the omicron COVID-19 variant, watching with concern from afar and altering their holiday plans due to new travel restrictions.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and a case has since been found in San Francisco from a person who had recently traveled to the nation and most recently in Los Angeles.

The U.S. has restricted travel from several southern African nations to try to halt the spread of the variant while scientists study whether it is more transmissible than other strains. That move that has been criticized by some in the international health community for the burden it may place on the countries versus the potential benefits.

Graham Perkett, the owner of Perky’s South African Food and Catering in Kearny Mesa, says many of his customers had to cancel plans to go back to see their families for the holidays because of the omicron variant.

“We’re praying that it will soon be over,” one customer told FOX 5 Thursday.

“South Africa has a problem just like the USA where there is a lot of people that just believe it’s just another type of a flu,” Perkett said.

But the business owner says he has seen the devastating impact of COVID-19 firsthand. He lost his sister-in-law in South Africa to the delta variant.

“She’s never been sick — healthy person,” Perkett said. “Got the delta variant. Was isolated for four days. Her chest kept getting worse. Went into hospital and into ICU and just never made it out of there.”

Other members of San Diego’s South African community are also feeling the virus’ effects, especially as the new variant keeps them from seeing loved ones.

“They’re all quite scared of it because they all wanted to travel home for Christmas and now they can’t, so a lot of plans have been changed,” Perkett told FOX 5.

He also worries about how the travel restrictions will affect his home country that depends so heavily on tourism: “It affects communities in South Africa. The tourism, the money and income that will be coming from everybody visiting — so it just affects everybody in the long run.”

Perkett estimates there are roughly 30,000 South Africans living in San Diego.