More countries halt international flights over new COVID-19 variant

European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen, today, urgently called for all air travel to and from countries with reported cases of the new COVID-19 strain to be canceled until government and health officials have a better understanding of the risk the new virus variant poses.

Denmark, Morocco, the Philippines and Spain have become the latest nations to impose travel restrictions on all non-essential travel to South Africa and neighboring states, joining the growing list of countries with curbs over ‘super mutant’ COVID-19 strain.

The European Union’s announcement came after Denmark and Spain joined other European nations in limiting travel to the region, while, internationally, Morocco and the Philippines took similar steps to restrict movement to a group of countries deemed at risk.

Germany has declared South Africa a “virus variant area,” the country’s health minister Jens Spahn wrote on Twitter. It means “airlines will only be allowed to transport Germans” from the country.

All arrivals would be required to quarantine for 14 days, even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered, Spahn added.

The Dutch authorities made a similar move, announcing a ban on flights from South Africa to the Netherlands from midnight.

Italy and Czech Republic were also quick to follow other European nations in imposing restrictions. 

Rome has banned entry to all arrivals from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. Prague has also said that non-nationals who recently visited South Africa won’t be allowed into Czechia.

Later in the day, France said that it was suspending flights from southern Africa for at least 48 hours, with Health Minister Olivier Veran announcing that all those who recently arrived from the region are going to be tested and monitored closely.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex revealed that talks among EU leaders on how to respond to the new strain, which so far hasn’t been diagnosed on the continent, are going to take place “over the next hours”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the large number of mutations in the newly-discovered variant raises serious concerns over how it will impact diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccinations.

The UK also restricted air travel to and from South Africa and its neighbors, with the country’s Health Security Agency saying that “this is the worst variant we have seen so far.”

Countries beyond Europe have also been worried about the new variant, with Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Bahrain imposing restrictions on travelers from the southern Africa region.

Israel also placed a ban on arrivals from southern Africa but then expanded that ‘red zone’ to almost the whole continent, only excluding some north-African nations.

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