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New Covid variant: Belgium flags first case in Europe in woman returning from Egypt

Health ministry says new B.1.1.529 variant was found in an unvaccinated woman who reportedly returned from Egypt via Turkey
A woman presented with Covid symptoms after flying from Egypt via Turkey back to Belgium on 11 November (AFP/File photo)

Belgium said on Friday it had detected the first announced case in Europe of the new Covid-19 variant, in an unvaccinated person returning from Egypt via Turkey. 

"We have a case that is now confirmed of this variant," B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa, Belgium's health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, told a press conference.

"There is no reason to panic...caution and scientific analysis are certainly needed. It is a suspicious variant but we do not know whether it is very dangerous." 

A leading Belgian virologist, Marc Van Ranst, tweeted that the woman had returned from Egypt on 11 November.

Belgium's health ministry said the woman who contracted the B.1.1.529 variant travelled back to Belgium via Turkey and was not vaccinated or infected with Covid-19 in the past. 

The woman sought a Covid test after enduring flu-like symptoms 11 days after a trip to Egypt via Turkey. 

On Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected the new B.1.1.529 variant and said it had at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta and three for Beta variants. 

The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising fears about how current vaccines will fare.

"As scientists have described, (this is) the most significant variant they've encountered to date," British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.

Israel, which has detected a case of the new variant, and Egypt on Friday suspended flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The European Union meanwhile proposed member states stop all flights to and from southern Africa following the variant's discovery, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

Britain also banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, asking travellers returning from there to quarantine.