BRUSSELS: Europe rushed to ban travel from southern Africa on Friday to slow the spread of a new Covid-19 strain that scientists fear could torpedo efforts to beat the pandemic.
Global markets sank as news fell that a new variant that is more contagious than Delta and possibly more resistant to vaccines could potentially expose the global recovery to a severe blow.
Researchers are now competing to determine the characteristics and threat of the highly mutated strain, designated B.1.1.529.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it could take several weeks to understand the variant and warned against introducing new travel edges.
“The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures … the implementation of travel measures is warned,” the spokesman said. Christian Lindmeier
Europe is already struggling to cope with a new rise in the coronavirus, and recurring restrictions have sparked riots in some countries.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands joined the UK on Friday when they announced a travel ban.
The bans covered all of South Africa, and in many cases even some or all of the following: Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The European Commission said it would quickly coordinate joint action between the bloc’s 27 member states.
“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems”, Germany’s acting Minister of Health Jens Spahn
said as his country battled a violent fourth wave of pandemics.
The rush to shut down southern Africa comes a day after researchers in Johannesburg said they had discovered the new strain with at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta.
The variant was of “serious concern” and had been blamed for an increase in the number of infections, authorities in South Africa said on Thursday.
It had also been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa.
Israel said it had quarantined three people, all vaccinated, identified with the new variant, one of whom had just returned from Malawi.
The WHO said that they “monitor” the variant closely and weigh whether it should be described as a variant of “interest” or “concern”.
It was also up to the WHO to decide whether to give the tribe a name derived from the Greek alphabet, as for previously large variants such as Delta.
Frightened by the variant, European markets fell by more than three percent, with airline shares particularly affected. Tokyo shut down 2.53 percent, after losing more than three percent in the middle of the day.
The new variant broke out on the scene when European countries announced new measures to meet the ravages of the Delta variant, which again leads to a critical shortage of hospital beds.
Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal – which have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – have all announced new measures in recent days to halt a stream of infections that have been worse than feared.
Authorities in the Netherlands are preparing for new riots ahead of an expected announcement by the Prime Minister on Friday Mark Rutte
to tighten a partial lock when infections reach record levels.
Belgium, which saw similar scenes of violence last weekend, is also expected to announce new measures.
As a sign that the new spearhead shattered hopes of a slow return to normalcy, EU Council President Charles Michel canceled a visit to Japan and South Korea due to a positive fall among his cabinet in Brussels.
In Asia, China’s strict zero-covid policy forced Shanghai to suspend hundreds of flights and close some schools after three local cases were registered, health officials said on Friday.
“China has accumulated a lot of experience of ‘dynamic zero-covid’,” he said Zhang Wenhong
, head of Shanghai Covid
expert group for prevention at a Thursday briefing.
The Philippines said on Friday that it would welcome back vaccinated foreign tourists from countries classified as low-risk next week.
But the effects of the pandemic have driven even the most ardent skeptics on the world stage to adopt certain antivirus measures.
“When it’s me, we should not have a carnival,” said the Brazilian president in February Jair Bolsonaro