A wave of countries is banning and restricting travel from southern Africa over a new virus variant

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A wave of countries is banning and restricting travel from southern Africa over a new virus variant
  • Countries in Europe and Asia raced to tighten border controls over a new coronavirus variant.
  • B.1.1.529 is spreading rapidly in South Africa and may be harder to contain than prior variants.

Countries across Europe and Asia tightened border controls after scientists warned of a new coronavirus variant found mostly in South Africa.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, appears to have spread rapidly in South Africa. Some cases have been found in nearby Botswana, while Hong Kong and Belgium both identified cases in recent air passengers.

The traits of the new variants remain unclear. But Britain's health minister Sajid Javid warned Thursday that the new strain may be more transmissible than the Delta variant which is currently dominant.

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Vaccines may also prove less effective against the latest variant, Javid said. Here are the latest bans and restrictions:

  • The UK suspended flights to six African countries including South Africa and added them to its "red" list.
  • Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Austria introduced travel restrictions to and from southern Africa, Politico reported.
  • European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday the EU planned to introduce a bloc-wide ban on air travel from South Africa and neighboring countries, Reuters reported.
  • India told individual states to screen and test travellers from South Africa and other "at risk" countries, Reuters reported.
  • Israel's health ministry announced a ban on travel from almost all African countries.
  • Japan also tightened border controls.

Africa's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it "strongly discourages" the imposition of travel bans on people from countries that have reported the variant in a statement Friday.

The World Health Organization has an emergency meeting Friday afternoon in Geneva to discuss the new variant, NBC News reported.

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As of Friday, the Africa CDC said the B.1.1.529 had been detected in 77 samples from South Africa, 4 from Botswana, and 1 from Hong Kong.

Belgium's health minister on Friday announced one case had been found there in a recent traveller. It was the first found in Europe.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US chief medical advisor, said Friday morning that there was no sign of the variant so far in the US.

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"This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility," said Dr. Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, on Thursday.

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