EU eyeing travel limits from Southern Africa due to COVID-19 variant

The European Commission said on Friday it wants to limit air travel from southern African into the bloc due to fears about a new COVID-19 variant.

This follows similar moves announced by Britain and Israel.

Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted that the EU executive branch “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’’.

Member states Italy, Germany and Austria announced new restrictions on flights.

The move comes two days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the strain as one of its “variants under monitoring”.

WHO officials said it would take a few weeks to find out more and decide whether it should be designated as a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” and be given a Greek name like Delta.

The new variant B.1.1.529 has been detected in southern Africa.

Coronavirus cases with the variant have been confirmed in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, Britain’s PA news agency reported.

On Thursday, Israel and Britain announced new travel restrictions on several African countries over concerns about a new coronavirus variant.

Israel reclassified South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini with immediate effect – foreigners from these countries can no longer travel to Israel.

Britain suspended flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

For the European Union, the commission has been issuing travel recommendations for member states to implement since the pandemic hit Europe in the early months of last year.

Many of these were eased in recent months.

But the bloc is currently grappling with a fresh wave of infections despite high vaccination rates in most member states.

Berlin, Vienna and Rome announced new restrictions on Friday.

German Health Minister, Jens Spahn, said the country would restrict flights from South Africa.

From late on Friday, only flights carrying German citizens to Germany will be permitted to fly.

Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, said entry would be banned from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

The Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs and Health announced similar restrictions for non-Austrians coming from the same countries, with travel “fundamentally prohibited”, according to a press release.

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