The Belgian government on Friday said that the country has detected the first case of the new B.1.1.529 variant of the coronavirus in Europe, AFP reported.
The patient is an unvaccinated person who recently returned to the country from abroad. Belgium’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that the patient tested positive on November 22, and had not been infected with Covid-19 before.
The country’s national reference laboratory said that the patient is a young adult woman, Reuters reported. She developed symptoms of coronavirus 11 days after she returned from Egypt via Turkey.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected in South Africa and scientists in the country are working to understand its possible implications. The scientists told reporters that the variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, and that these mutations may help it evade the body’s immune system.
“It must be repeated that this is a suspect variant – we don’t know if it is a very dangerous variant,” Vandenbroucke said. He added that Europe was stopping flights from southern Africa “as a precaution”. The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected in South Africa.
European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen on Friday said that the European Union will propose to stop air travel from the southern African region in view of the emergence of the variant.
Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Singapore and Israel, have banned people from southern Africa from travelling to those countries.
“So, total precaution but don’t panic,” Belgium Health Minister Vandenbroucke said.
Belgium is currently dealing with a rise in coronavirus infections. The country has the sixth highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita in Europe, and the country’s case fatality rate is marginally below the average for the European Union.
On Friday, country’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced new restrictions, under which bars and restaurants will have to close by 11 pm for the next three weeks, according to Reuters. Further, private parties and gatherings have been prohibited, unless they are for weddings or funerals.