Brazil’s health regulator has recommended curbs on travel from some African countries after the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, but President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to dismiss such measures.
Regulator Anvisa said on Friday 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 UK and EU are already tightening border controls as researchers look into whether the new coronavirus mutation is vaccine-resistant.
Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his management of the pandemic.
He has railed against lockdowns, often refused to wear a mask in public and chose not to get vaccinated, while a Senate commission recently recommended the far-right president be indicted for his government’s handling of the crisis.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the virus, behind only the United States, at more than 613,000 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“Given the epidemiological impact that the new variant could have on the global situation, we recommend, as a preventive measure, the immediate suspension of all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe,” Anvisa said in a statement.
The new variant, called B.1.1.529, 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.
Brazil’s regulatory agency also recommended “the temporary suspension of the authorization to stay in Brazil for foreign travelers who have passed through these countries in the last 14 days” because “the new variant appears to have a higher transmissibility”.
Before Friday’s Anvisa statement, Bolsonaro said it made little sense to close the borders.
“What madness is this?” Bolsonaro told supporters when asked if travel would be restricted. “The virus doesn’t come in if you close the airport. It is already here.”
The president’s comments come as devastation from the pandemic has receded in recent months.