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- American immunologist and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The last passengers were arriving at London Heathrow from South Africa on Friday (November 26), after Britain was among countries to ban flights from there and five neighboring countries, reacting to a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, alarming scientists and leaders worldwide.
The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the original one that vaccines are based on. Researchers are racing to find out if the mutation is resistant to current vaccines.
Belgium reported the first known case in Europe, adding to those in Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against hasty travel bans.
But European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU should act now.
"It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united. The European Commission has today proposed to member states to activate the emergency break 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."
Several other countries including India, Japan and Israel also toughened curbs.
In Washington, top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said no decision had been made on a possible U.S. travel ban, saying there was no indication that the variant was in the United States, and it was unclear whether it was vaccine-resistant.
South African scientists suspect the sudden spike in infections in the country is linked to the new variant, but it is not clear how far it has spread beyond its borders.
South African sport began to shut down on Friday, with the travel bans forcing international rugby teams and golfers to scramble to leave.