The European Union is set to halt flights from countries in the southern African region after a new concerning COVID-19 variant was detected by scientists in South Africa last Thursday, on November 25.
According to the EU Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen, the institution she leads is set to propose today to stop air travel from the southern African region to the block.
“The EU Commission will propose, in close coordination with the Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” she said in a tweet today.
According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations that cause evasion of the body’s immunity and make it more transmissible. 22 cases of the new virus variant have so far been detected so far, two of which in Hong Kong.
While the World Health Organisation is preparing to respond to the concerns on the new variant, several world countries have already imposed restrictions on travel from the region.
Early in the morning today, the United Kingdom announced it has placed South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe on its red list, which means that from Friday midday, direct flights from the six countries will be banned up until Sunday at 4 am.
Whereas passengers arriving from these countries from Sunday, at 4 am, will have to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for ten days.
According to UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid, the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that the existing vaccines may be less effective against it.
The chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Jenny Harries, has confirmed Javid’s claims.
“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,” chief Harries said.
South Africa may be one of the world countries most impacted by travel restrictions due to virus strains detected in its territory a few times now. Back at the beginning of the year, the majority of EU countries imposed restrictions on travel from South Africa due to the same reason.
In January, the Netherlands had banned flights from South Africa due to the British variant. At the same time, Norway decided to impose new testing requirements on travellers from South Africa, who were permitted to enter the country at the time.
In most EU countries, restrictions for South Africans remained in place up until summer. In August, Austria was one of the last countries to slightly ease entry restrictions for South Africa, adding it to lesser epidemiologically dangerous countries and releasing fully vaccinated travellers from mandatory quarantine requirements.