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WHO cautions against travel curbs over new COVID-19 variant

As European nations began banning flights from South Africa, the WHO said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach when considering travel curbs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26 cautioned against imposing travel restrictions due to the B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, saying it would take weeks to understand the implications of the newly discovered strain.

The WHO said its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution was holding a meeting on November 26 to discuss the variant first detected through surveillance in South Africa.

Also read | Experts in India urge caution as new coronavirus variant emerges in South Africa

As European nations began banning flights from South Africa, the WHO said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach when considering travel curbs — but cautioned against restrictions.

“WHO is closely monitoring the recently reported variant B.1.1.529,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier said. “Early analysis shows this variant has a large number of mutations that require further study. It will take a few weeks to understand what impact this variant has.”

“Researchers are working to understand more about the mutations and what they potentially mean for how transmissible or virulent this variant is, and how they may impact on diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.”

 

Germany and Italy on November 26 joined Britain and other European countries in banning most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Singapore and Malaysia said they would restrict arrivals from seven African countries.

Explained | What are variants of concern?

The WHO is cautious on imposing travel restrictions relating to COVID-19.

“At this point, again, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Mr. Lindmeier said.

The TAG-VE group began a virtual meeting at 4.30 p.m. IST to discuss whether B.1.1.529 should, at this stage, be classified as a variant of interest, or the more troubling variant of concern.

Also read | Variant found in India to be called ‘Delta’ in new WHO system

There are currently four variants of concern: Alpha, Beta (which was first documented in South Africa), Gamma and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta.

There are also two variants of interest: Lambda and Mu.


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