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New coronavirus variant in South Africa-travel ban by several countries: What you need to know

Image courtesy: Getty images/BBC

Experts have warned about the “unusual mutations” in the new variant B.1.1529 that has been identified in 22 coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in South Africa.

Scientists still have much to learn about the variant, but there are concerns it may be the worst yet.

The WHO says so far under 100 samples have been sequenced. Cases have mainly been confirmed in South Africa, but have also been detected in Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.

Israel's PM Naftali Bennett said on Friday it is "on the verge of a state of emergency" regarding the new variant, and that he would "act fast, strong and now".

One case was detected in a person who returned from Malawi, according to Israeli media reports quoting the country's health ministry. Another two suspected infections were yet to be confirmed with test results. All three are said to have been fully vaccinated.

Several countries are swiftly moving to stop international flights from the region to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus variant B.1.1529.

The UK, which accounts for the largest share of overseas tourists to South Africa, has already announced a temporary ban on flights to the country and from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. South Africa's foreign ministry criticised the UK - which was one of the first nations to impose a flight ban - for what it called the "rushed decision".

Italy will be banning entry to those who have been to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Swaziland in the past fortnight. France has suspended all flights coming from southern Africa for 48 hours.

The Head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is proposing the whole of the EU put on the "emergency brake" and stop flights from the region.

India has not taken the extreme step of a travel ban, the central government has warned states to be extra cautious regarding international travellers from Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the UN health agency said it has no comments to offer at this point in time over the international travel bans.

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