SAO PAULO/BRASILIA:Brazilian health regulator Anvisa recommended on Friday that travel be restricted from some African countries due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, though it was unclear if President Jair Bolsonaro would adopt any measures.
Anvisa said its recommendation, which would need government approval to be implemented, was to immediately suspend flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The EU and Britain are already tightening border controls as researchers look into whether the new mutation is vaccine-resistant.
Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a separate note that the new B.1.1.529 variant named Omicron poses a potential future threat, but that its epidemiological impact was unclear.
After the Anvisa statement, Bolsonaro told journalists he was considering taking measures related to the variant but continued to emphasize that he was against severe coronavirus-related restrictions.
“Brazil can’t handle another lockdown. There’s no use getting terrified,” he said after a military event in Rio de Janeiro. “I’m going to take rational measures.”
Bolsonaro has been widely criticized by public health experts for his management of the pandemic, railing against lockdowns, often refusing to wear a mask in public and choosing not to get vaccinated. Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the virus, behind only the United States.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions due to the variant, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach.”
In its technical note, Anvisa said that foreigners who have been to at least one of the six African countries cited in the prior 14 days should not be allowed to land in Brazil, while Brazilians arriving from those nations should be required to quarantine.
The health agency said, “The new variant appears to have a higher transmissibility.”
Anvisa President Antonio Barra Torres told news channel GloboNews that travel restrictions are a necessary preventive measure and he expected the government to make a decision as soon as possible.
The news of the variant hammered travel stocks in Brazil.
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