EU, UK, Israel to halt air travel to southern Africa over new COVID-19 variant

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the B.1.1.529 variant, warning officials to avoid “knee-jerk responses,” the 27-nation European Union said it would propose stopping air travel from southern Africa.

The EU joined Israel and the United Kingdom who are likewise imposing a travel ban.

Will the U.S. also impose a ban? Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that it’s a possibility but that scientists need to first determine whether the variant can evade antibodies created by vaccines and viral infection.

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“We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, according to Reuters.

Israel announced Friday that it had detected the country’s first case of the new variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.

The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday. Anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

Germany, an EU nation that has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days, said its flight ban could be enacted as soon as Friday night.

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“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Italy’s health ministry also announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations.

The Japanese government announced that from Friday, Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine at 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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