The U.S. said Friday that it would restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries amid fears that a newly-discovered COVID-19 variant could lead to a surge of worldwide cases and deaths.
The White House says that it would also suspend travel to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in addition to South Africa.
The White House's announcement came hours after the World Health Organization declared the newly-discovered omicron strain a "variant of concern."
In addition to the U.S., several other countries have suspended travel to southern Africa. The EU on Friday agreed to impose a ban on travel to countries in southern Africa over fears of the recently-discovered variant, which was originally denominated B.1.1.529.
According to The Associated Press, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights "should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.
"She insisted on extreme caution, warning that "mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months."
According to NPR, it's not yet clear if the new variant is more infectious or causes a person to contract a more severe infection.
CNN reports that genomic scientists say the new variant has an "unusually high" number of mutations that cause the virus to have more of the key spike proteins it uses to get into the healthy cells it attacks.
NPR says the new variant also has twice as many mutations as the delta variant, which caused a new surge in cases this summer.