EU to restrict travel from Southern Africa due to Covid variant

The European Commission is planning to activate emergency powers to ban air travel from Southern Africa in response to the new Covid variant, EC President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Friday.
Known as B.1.1.529 and expected to be renamed ‘Nu’, the variant has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.

There are fears it may be more contagious and better at evading vaccine immunity than previous variants.

“We are proposing, in close coordination with EU countries, to activate the emergency brake mechanism to stop air travel from the Southern African region due to the new COVID-19 variant of concern B.1.1.529,” Von der Leyen said in a statement.

The emergency brake mechanism allows EU countries to impose a travel ban if the epidemiological situation in a non-EU country worsens due to a concerning variant.

Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic have already announced travel restrictions to the region.

Israel’s health ministry also announced Friday that it had detected three suspected cases of the variant in the country.

The UK placed South Africa and five other countries on its no-fly “red list”.

“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,” said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

Italy has also banned entry to the country for anyone who has been to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past 14 days.

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