Asian and European countries tightened travel restrictions on Friday after a new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant was detected in South Africa, with the EU and India announcing stricter border controls.
Britain banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries and asked British travellers returning from there to quarantine, while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU also aimed to halt air travel from the region.
Scientists are still learning about the variant, identified this week, but the news pummelled global stocks and oil amid fears what new bans would do to already shaky economies across southern Africa.
The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising fears about how current vaccines, successful against the more familiar Delta variant, will fare.
“As scientists have described, (this is) the most significant variant they’ve encountered to date,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.
The WHO was holding a meeting in Geneva, with experts discussing the risks the variant, called B.1.1.529, presents, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said.