The European Union has urged member states to bar air travel with South Africa and at least other six countries over a new coronavirus variant that has sunk global stocks today.
The new variant called B.1.1.529 is sparking international concern because it carries an extremely high number of mutations which makes it look “dramatically” different from the version the COVID-19 vaccines were designed to target.
“This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump on evolution and many more mutations that we expected,” said the Director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa.
The country has detected over 1,000 cases of the new variant, mostly clustered in the province of Gauteng.
According to Bloomberg, two cases were discovered in Hong Kong earlier this month. A man who arrived in the country from South Africa reportedly passed the infection on to another quarantining passenger staying across the hall.
Other cases have also been detected in Botswana, Israel, and Belgium.
The UK suspended flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini with immediate effect starting on Friday.
“Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant… that’s one of the reasons why we are taking these actions today,” the UK Health Secretary told reporters.
Germany will only allow repatriation flights for nationals and permanent residents. These arrivals must now undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine regardless of their vaccination status.
Italy was of one the first countries to react. It banned everyone who has been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the last 14 days.
France suspended flights from the region for 48 hours while deciding further action.
The Czech Republic is barring travelers who have spent more than 12 hours in the past 14 days in the southern African region.
Israel, Singapore, Malaysia immediately suspended all travel from southern African countries. Returning travelers will be subjected to quarantine.
Japan and India have not suspended flights yet but announced stringent restrictions.
International travel has not been the only economic sector impacted so far. Global stocks and oil prices plummeted today after the news was released and the EU proposed suspending air travel from southern Africa.
At the opening, London stocks sank by an unusually wide margin of 3.3%. Tokyo lost 2.5%. And Shanghai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Wall Street have also reported losses.