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Europe and Asia, alarmed by COVID variant, tighten borders

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Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, with the EU, Britain and India among those announcing stricter border controls as scientists sought to determine if the mutation was vaccine-resistant, according to Reuters. 

Britain banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries and asked British travellers returning from there to quarantine, while European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU also aimed to halt air travel from the region.

Scientists are still learning about the variant, identified this week. The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said.

“As scientists have described, this is the most significant variant they’ve encountered to date,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.

The variant, called B.1.1.529, has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, according to the UK Health Security Agency. Israel said it was barring its citizens from travelling to southern Africa after one case of the new strain was found in a traveller returning from Malawi.

European countries had already been expanding booster vaccinations and tightening curbs as the continent battles a fourth wave of the coronavirus, led by the delta variant with many reporting record daily rises in cases.