Coronavirus: EU wants to halt flights from southern Africa over variant

BRUSSELS – A number of nations moved to stop flights from southern Africa on Friday, and shares fell in Asia and Europe in response to news of a new, potentially more transferable COVID-19 variant.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn amid a massive increase in cases in the 27-nation EU.

Within a few days of the discovery of the new variant, it has already affected a nervous community that is sensitive to bad COVID-19 news, with deaths around the world of well over 5 million.

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There are fears that the new variant may be even more contagious than the current prevalent one and may circumvent the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.

“Early indications are that this variant may be more transmissible than the delta variant, and current vaccines may be less effective against it,” British Health Minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers. “We need to move quickly and as early as possible,” he said.

Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, announced on Friday that it has discovered the country’s first case of the new variant in a traveler returning from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspects have been isolated. It said all three have been vaccinated but that it is currently investigating their exact vaccination status.

The new variant immediately infected stock markets worldwide. Major indices fell in Europe and Asia, and Dow Jones futures fell 800 points ahead of the US market opening

“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” said Jeffrey Halley of currency broker Oanda.

Oil prices fell, with the United States. crude oil from 6.7 percent to $ 73.22 per barrel. barrel and the international Brent benchmark from 5.6 percent to $ 77.64, both unusually large movements for a single day. The pandemic caused oil prices to plunge during the first outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 because travel restrictions reduced the demand for fuel.

The airlines’ shares were hammered, with Lufthansa down 12.4 percent, IAG, parent company of British Airways and Iberia, down 14.4 percent, Air France-KLM down 8.9% and easyJet down 10.9 percent.

The World Health Organization warned against drawing conclusions too quickly.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s head of emergency, said before the EU announcement that “it is really important that there are no knee-jerk reactions.”

“We have seen in the past, the moment there is any kind of publicity of any kind of variation, and everyone is closing boundaries and limiting travel. It’s really important that we stay open and stay focused,” Ryan said.

It fell quickly for deaf ears.

The United Kingdom announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other South African countries with effect at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

Germany said its flight ban could be passed as early as Friday night. Spahn said airlines returning from South Africa will only be able to transport German nationals home, and travelers will have to be quarantined for 14 days, whether they are vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed 100,000 deaths on Thursday as a result of COVID-19.

The Italian Ministry of Health also announced measures to ban entry into Italy for anyone who has been to seven South African nations – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – for the past 14 days due to the new variant. The Netherlands is planning similar measures.

The Japanese government announced that from Friday, Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will be quarantined in government-dedicated accommodation for 10 days and do a COVID test on day 3, day 6. and day 10 Japan has not yet opened up to foreign nationals.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads, and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Researchers are monitoring for possible changes that may be more transmissible or fatal, but it may take time to find out if new variants will have an impact on public health.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, he said.

The WHO Technical Working Group is due to meet on Friday to assess the new variant and can decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet. It says coronavirus infections rose 11% in Europe in the past week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. WHO Europe Director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that the continent without emergency measures could see another 700,000 deaths by spring.


Lorne Cook in Brussels, Colleen Barry in Milan, Pan Pylas in London, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Mike Corder in The Hague, Dave McHugh and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed


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