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New coronavirus variant in South Africa: These countries are banning flights

Amid European Union’s executive Ursula von der Leyen’s proposal to ban air travel from southern Africa

New coronavirus variant in South Africa: These countries are banning flights

Amid European Union's executive Ursula von der Leyen's proposal to ban air travel from southern Africa, several member states are swiftly moving to stop international flights from the region to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus variant B.1.1529. Experts have warned about the "unusual mutations" in the new variant that has been identified in 22 coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in South Africa.

On Thursday, World Health Organization (WHO) officials rushed to discuss the variant which, experts warn, could affect transmissibility and immune response due to a high number of spike mutations. South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) issued a statement on the new variant, saying experts are working overtime to understand the potential implications.

"We can see that the variant is potentially spreading very fast. We do expect to start seeing pressure in the healthcare system in the next few days and weeks," South African virologist Tulio de Oliveira said, as quoted by Associated Press.

The alarms bells sounded by experts over B.1.1529 have prompted countries around the world to announce travel bans in a bid to prevent its spread.

British health secretary Sajid Javid said that the scientists were "deeply concerned" over the new variant, and, as a precautionary measure, the UK has decided to suspend all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Health minister Jens Spahn said that Germany will ban most travel from South African and "probably neighbouring nations" to prevent the spread of the new virus variant with a large number of mutations. He added that German nationals will be allowed entry but they have to go through mandatory quarantined even if fully vaccinated.

Following the "path of maximum caution", health minister Roberto Speranza said Italy will be banning entry to those who have been to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Swaziland in the past fortnight.

While India has not taken the extreme step of a travel ban, the central government has warned states to be extra cautious regarding international travellers from Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the UN health agency said it has no comments to offer at this point in time over the international travel bans.

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