European countries ban travel from southern Africa over new variant

(Update: adds case in Belgium)

Madrid Desk, Nov 26 (EFE).- A new coronavirus variant has alarm bells ringing in Europe, where several countries responded with new travel restrictions on Friday.

The World Health Organisation, which was holding an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation, has warned that it could take weeks until the full impacts of the new variant are known, while British health minister Sajid Javid told Parliament the new variant B.1.1.529 “is of huge international concern.”

The variant was first detected in Hong Kong in a traveler from South Africa, and it has also been detected in Botswana, the health minister said.

On Thursday, South African authorities confirmed the new, apparently more transmissible variant had been discovered in results on November 23 from test samples taken between November 14 and 16 after a spike in cases in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

In what he described as a “fast moving situation” with a “high degree of uncertainty”, Javid said it was “highly likely that it has now spread to other countries”.

“We are concerned that this new variant may pose substantial risk to public health.”

In response, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have suspended travel from countries in southern Africa, while Germany has also temporarily banned arrivals from South Africa, except for German citizens.

German health minister Jens Spahn said the measure was “necessary, preventive and proactive” to avoid the spread of the new variant into the country, adding that the variant’s multiple mutations are a cause of “great concern”.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the body would propose “to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern.”

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