EU moves to halt air travel from southern Africa over COVID variant

Amid concerns about a new variant of COVID-19, the European Commission is looking to prevent air travel from southern Africa [Niel Goosen / Shutterstock]

The European Union aims to halt air travel from the southern African region amid rising concern about a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday (26 November).

“The Commission will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” she said in a tweet.

AFP quoted Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke as saying on Friday afternoon a case of the South African variant of COVID-19 had been detected in Belgium.

Another Commission source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told EURACTIV there was “considerable concern about the variant”. “The problem is, there is not enough information yet and generally, I’m afraid that, across the EU, we may have been somewhat late with appropriate measures again”.

The EU executive will recommend that all 27 member states implement the latest measure and hopes for the European Council to give the green light as soon as possible, an EU official added.

Britain temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from Friday, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.

The variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists say.

Scientists are still assessing the new virus variant, first identified this week. Its discovery on Friday pummeled financial markets in Asia, where stocks suffered their sharpest drop in three months and oil plunged more than 3%.

Decisions of the European Council, which represents member states, do not have to be taken by ministers but can also be signed off by the country’s ambassadors in Brussels.

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