Countries race to ban travel from southern Africa over new variant fears

Countries around the world are racing to ban travel from southern Africa after health officials identified a new COVID-19 variant that they warn may be vaccine-resistant.

The head of the European Commission announced Friday that the governing body will propose banning travel from the southern African region to its member states due to uncertainty over the new variant.

The new variant, called B.1.1529, was identified earlier this week and announced by scientists on Thursday. Officials say it has a larger number of mutations than previous strains. 

It is unclear how effective the coronavirus vaccines will be against the variant.

It was first detected in South Africa but has since been reported in Israel, Hong Kong, Botswana and Belgium, according to The New York Times.

Israel quickly moved to ban travel to and from all regions in Africa besides northern Africa after the case was discovered, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said flights from six African countries will be banned due to the new variant. 

The U.K. Health Security Agency “is investigating a new variant” and “taking precautions now” while acknowledging that more data is needed.

At least 10 countries, including Italy and France, have banned travel amid concerns of the new variant, according to The New York Times. 

The government of South Africa released a statement against the U.K.’s flight bans, saying the decision was “rushed.”

Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organisation is yet to advise on the next steps,” the statement said. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a special meeting to discuss the new variant and the next steps it will recommend for countries.

Tags COVID-19 pandemic in Israel European Commission South African COVID-19 variant Variants of SARS-CoV-2

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