The discovery of a new coronavirus variant has triggered global alarm as countries rushed to impose travel restrictions on southern Africa. The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected in South Africa but cases have been confirmed in Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong so far.
The World Health Organization has designated the new highly mutated strain of Covid a variant of concern and given it the Greek name ‘Omicron.’ A WHO panel classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the delta variant.
In response, the US, Canada, UK, Israel, Japan, Kenya, and Singapore joined the European Union and several other countries in instituting travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa.
US has announced to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday.
The 27-nation European Union imposed a temporary ban on air travel from southern Africa. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights will have to be suspended until we have a clear understanding of the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.
Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant.
Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, has announced that it also detected its first case of the new variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi.
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla called the travel restrictions unjustified, though he also said preliminary studies suggested the new variant may be more transmissible.