COVID-19: EU and US suspend travel from southern African countries over new variant

The EU and US have agreed to suspend travel from a number of countries in southern Africa over a new COVID variant.

The EU restrictions will apply to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said.

The US has banned travel from South Africa and seven other African nations – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

Canada has also imposed restrictions, banning travel from seven countries including South Africa and issuing an advisory asking all citizens not to travel to southern Africa, while Japan and Egypt have taken similar steps.

It comes after the first European case of the B.1.1.529 variant – which the WHO has called Omicron – first detected in South Africa was identified in Belgium.

EU governments have also been asked to discourage travel to those seven countries, an official said.

No decision has yet been made on restrictions for other countries where cases of the new variant have been detected, including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium, an EU member state.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, earlier said air travel from Europe should be suspended to all countries where the new COVID variant has been detected.

She also said vaccine producers are obliged under their contracts to adapt their jabs as soon as a new variant emerges.

“It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united,” Ms von der Leyen said.

“All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clearer understanding about the danger posed by this new variant.”

The commission president said those arriving from regions where the variant has been detected should be party to “strict quarantine rules”.

She said the EU was “taking it very seriously” and warned the variant could spread “worldwide in months”.

It “could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants”,” she added.

Marc Van Ranst, who works with the Rega Institute in Belgium, said a sample confirmed as the new variant was from a traveller who returned to Belgium from Egypt on 11 November and they started to show symptoms on 22 November.

Since midday on Friday, flights from six southern African nations – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – have been suspended.

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From 4pm on Sunday, new arrivals of UK and Irish residents into the UK from those countries will be required to quarantine in hotels after they were placed on the red list on Thursday night.

Non UK and Ireland residents will not be allowed in from those countries.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said experience has shown “we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment”.

He said there are concerns the variant may be more transmissible, make vaccines less effective and may affect one of the UK’s COVID treatments, Ronapreve.

Mr Javid told the Commons it was “highly likely” the variant had already spread from southern Africa to other countries.

(c) Sky News 2021: COVID-19: EU and US suspend travel from southern African countries over new variant


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