The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday cautioned countries against imposing hurried travel restrictions in wake of a feared COVID-19 surge due to the newly-discovered B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant. The global health body’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is holding a meeting Friday to discuss whether the variant first detected in South Africa should be classified as a variant of interest, or a variant of concern, as several European nations including Germany, Britain and Italy moved to ban flights from the country.

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Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine for 10 days at government-designated accommodation and undergo COVID testing on Day 3, Day 6 and Day 10, effective Friday. Singapore and Malaysia announced to restrict arrivals from seven African countries.

Dr Michael Ryan, the head of emergencies at the WHO said that “it’s really important that there are no knee-jerk responses.”

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“We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” Ryan said.

“WHO is closely monitoring the recently reported variant B.1.1.529,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a media briefing in Geneva.

“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study.

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“It will take a few weeks for us 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.”

Lindmeier said the WHO would advise caution against implementing travel measures at this point.

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The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it “strongly discourages the imposition of travel ban for people originating from countries that have reported this variant,” noting that “over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travelers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome.”

Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are currently the four WHO-listed variants of concern besides the Lambda and Mu variants of interest.

(With AP inputs)