By Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -Brazil will shut its borders to travelers arriving from six southern African countries, the chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday, the latest in a slew of major nations to announce restrictions meant to combat the newly identified Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“Brazil will close its aerial border to six countries in Africa due to the new coronavirus variant,” Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira wrote in a Twitter post. “We’re going to protect Brazilians in this new phase of the pandemic in this country. The official notice will be published tomorrow and will be going into effect on Monday.”
The six countries are: South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, he said in another Twitter post.
Brazilian health regulator Anvisa had recommended earlier on Friday that travel be restricted from some African countries due to the detection of the new COVID-19 variant.
The European Union and several countries, including Britain and the United States, have also announced tightened border controls as researchers investigate whether the new mutation is vaccine-resistant.
Brazil’s Health Ministry said in note earlier on Friday that the new B.1.1.529 variant poses a potential future threat, but that its epidemiological impact was unclear.
Bolsonaro told journalists earlier in the day he was considering taking measures related to the variant but continued to emphasize that he was against severe 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.”
The World Health Organization has cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions due to the variant, recommending instead 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 news of the variant hammered travel stocks in Brazil throughout Friday.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Simoes and Gabriel Araujo in Sao Paulo and Lisandra Paraguassu in BrasiliaEditing by Leslie AdlerWriting by Stephen Eisenhammer and Gram SlatteryEditing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)