South Africa’s foreign ministry said Britain’s decision to ban flights from South Africa because of the detection of a new COVID-19 variant “seems to have been rushed”, as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.

Scientists have so far 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.

Britain on Thursday temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from Friday after its detection was announced.

“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Emma Rumney and Kim Coghill)

South Africa criticizes Britain’s ‘rushed’ travel ban over new COVID-19 variant

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