EU member states agree to ban flights from southern Africa over new coronavirus variant ‘Omicron’ rapidly spreading there

FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meets with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (not pictured), in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2020.  REUTERS/Johanna Geron
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Reuters
  • A new coronavirus variant — B.1.1.529 — is rapidly spreading in southern Africa.
  • It prompted the European Commission to recommend a flight ban from the region.
  • Belgium announced Europe’s first case of the new variant, which the WHO named Omicron, on Friday.

European Union member states have agreed to ban flights from southern African countries, citing the new coronavirus variant rapidly spreading there, Associated Press journalist Zeke Miller reported on Twitter.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had earlier on Friday recommended that the member states take action over concerns of the new variant. The World Health Organization has named it “Omicron” and classified it as a “variant of concern.”

“It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively, and united,” von der Leyen said, and it was then up to the 27 individual EU member countries whether they followed her guidance.

She said: “The European Commission has today proposed to member states to activate the emergency brake on travel from countries in southern Africa and other countries affected to limit the spread of the new variant.

“All air travel to these countries should be suspended. They should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”

Watch her statement here:

Von der Leyen did not specify which countries she wanted to ban flights from.

EU countries are free to set their own flight bans and quarantine rules. Germany and Belgium, which are EU member states, had already imposed their own travel bans from southern African countries.

The variant has been found in Botswana and South Africa, as well as in Hong Kong, where it was imported by a traveler from South Africa. The variant appears to be responsible for an uptick in coronavirus cases in South Africa.

Earlier on Friday Belgium’s health minister said the country had found its first case of the new variant in a traveler who tested positive on November 22. It is the first such confirmed case in Europe.