Health officials warned that the new strain could make vaccines less effective
Australia said on Friday that it was investigating the newly identified Covid variant spreading in South Africa, and warned it may close its borders to travelers from the African nation.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said he would swiftly respond if the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies the discovered strain as a major variant, Reuters reported.
South African scientists warned that the new variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, and are concerned that it could evade the body’s immune response and be more transmissible.
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"As we have always been, we are flexible. And if the medical advice is that we need to change that, we won't hesitate," Hunt told reporters in Sydney.
"That is what we have done as a country, whether it has been closing borders, whether it has been ensuring there is quarantine," he added.
Alarmed by the news, Britain temporarily banned flights from South Africa and other African states on Friday and asked British travelers from such areas to quarantine.
Israel also restricted travel to South Africa on Thursday and banned the entry of foreigners from the region.
UK health officials warned that the new strain - which has a spike protein different than in the initial Covid virus - could make vaccines less effective, Reuters reported.
The WHO said that it would take “a few weeks” to grasp the impact of the variant, and noted Thursday that only a quarter of health workers in Africa are fully vaccinated against Covid.