Stocks tumbled around the world on Friday as the news of the variant spooked markets, prompted Britain, France, Italy and others to bar flights and impose restrictions, and terrified many Europeans already exhausted by news of breakthrough infections, surging cases ahead of another imperiled holiday season and rallies by vaccine skeptics.
So far only a few dozen cases of the new variant have been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.
But the case in Israel was a person who had recently arrived from Malawi, according to the state broadcaster, Kan. And Belgium’s case was detected in a young, unvaccinated woman who had recently returned from travel abroad, but not to South Africa or neighboring countries, Belgian researchers said.
Countries in Europe, once again the epicenter of the pandemic, wasted no time and were among the first to announce travel bans. Britain announced its restriction on Thursday, and put it into force on Friday.
“More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said on Twitter.
The discovery of the variant by South African authorities this week comes as the virus was already galloping across the continent in a deadly fourth wave, especially in Eastern Europe where vaccination levels are low and restrictions have been loose.
Italy’s decision on Friday to block travel from South Africa and the region showed that even a country that has generally been ahead of the wave, vaccinating much of its population and introducing early, and then progressively stricter, health passes to keep infections low, is not taking any chances.