A British ban on flights from South Africa because of the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant “seems to have been rushed” South Africa said on Friday.
Britain on Thursday temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia effective midday on Friday after its detection was announced.
So far, scientists have only detected the B.1.1.529 variant in relatively small numbers in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, but they are concerned by its high number of mutations which could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) was yet to advise on the next steps.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.
The rand slumped more than 1% against the dollar early on Friday, as the variant made investors cautious.
South Africa will engage with British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their decision, the statement added.
South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a WHO working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.
On Thursday, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 2,465 new cases, almost double the previous day’s number. The NICD did not link the resurgence to the B.1.1.529 variant.