The European Union is set to halt flights from countries in the southern African region after a new variant of COVID-19 was discovered by South African scientists last Thursday, November 25.
According to the President of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the institution that leads it is due today to propose a moratorium on air travel from South Africa to the region.
And she said in a tweet today: “The European Union Commission, in close coordination with member states, will propose to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variable of concern B.1.1.529.”
According to South Africa’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations that evade the body’s immunity and make it more transmissible. So far, 22 cases of the novel coronavirus have been detected, two of which are in Hong Kong.
As the World Health Organization prepares to respond to concerns about the new alternative, many countries in the world have already imposed restrictions on travel from the region.
Early this morning, the UK announced that it had put South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe on its red list, meaning that from midday Friday, direct flights from the six countries will be banned until Sunday at 4am.
While passengers arriving from these countries as of Sunday, at 4 am, will have to book and pay the government-approved hotel quarantine facility fee for ten days.
According to British Health Minister Sajid Javid, the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that existing vaccines may be less effective against it.
The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Jenny Harris, confirmed Javid’s allegations.
“This is the single most important variable we’ve encountered to date, and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine susceptibility,” President Harris said.
South Africa may be one of the countries in the world most affected by travel restrictions due to strains of the virus that have now been detected in its territory several times. Back at the beginning of the year, the majority of EU countries imposed restrictions on travel from South Africa for the same reason.
In January, the Netherlands banned flights from South Africa due to the British variant. At the same time, Norway decided to impose new testing requirements on travelers from South Africa, who were allowed into the country at the time.
In most EU countries, restrictions on South Africa remained in place until the summer. In August, Austria was one of the last countries to slightly loosen entry restrictions into South Africa, adding it to less epidemiologically dangerous countries and exempting fully vaccinated travelers from mandatory quarantine requirements.