Germany and Italy on Friday joined Britain in banning most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to prevent the spread of a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations.
In a sign of the growing alarm, the European Union on separately proposed prohibiting travel from southern Africa.
The EU’s executive “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,” EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted Friday.
Germany’s new travel restrictions, starting Friday night, will affect South Africa and “probably neighbouring nations”, Spahn said, with only German nationals allowed entry.
They must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival even if vaccinated.
“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” Spahn said, with Germany in the grip of a ferocious fourth wave of the pandemic.
In Rome, the government on Friday announced it was banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past fortnight.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, “and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution”.
Britain announced that all flights from South Africa and its same neighbours would be prohibited starting 1200 GMT on Friday.
South Africa sharply condemned Britain’s decision.
“Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Malaysia, Singapore and Israel
Singapore and Malaysia will also restrict arrivals from seven African countries, health officials said Friday.
All non-citizens and people without permanent residency who have recent travel history to the seven countries will be barred from entering.
In both Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia, the restrictions will apply to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
Citizens and foreigners holding permanent resident status will be allowed to return to Singapore and Malaysia, but will have to undergo quarantine, health officials in both countries said.
Malaysia also banned its citizens from visiting the seven affected nations.
The curbs will kick in over the weekend in both countries.
Neither country has detected the new variant, but Singapore’s health ministry said it was seeking to “take the necessary precautions to reduce the risks” of it reaching the city-state.
Israel has identified a case of a Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations first detected in South Africa, the health ministry said Friday.
“The variant discovered in southern African states has been identified in Israel,” the ministry said, adding it was recorded “in a person who returned from Malawi”.
Two more suspected cases were detected in “people returning from abroad”, it said, adding that they had been placed in quarantine.
The three people were all vaccinated, the health ministry said, without specifying the number of doses or the type of vaccine.
Israel had already late Thursday placed on its “red list” the southern African nations of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe because of the discovery of the variant.
The World Health Organization is due to hold a meeting later Friday to decide if the new strain should be designated a variant of “interest” or of “concern”.