The European Union’s executive said Friday it wants to stop air travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”
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A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.
A fourth spike of the coronavirus is hitting the 27-nation EU especially badly, with governments scrambling to tighten restrictions in an attempt to contain spread. The flight ban proposal came in the wake of similar action from Britain on Thursday.
The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the dominant delta strain, and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it.
The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.
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Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.
The World Health Organization’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.