By Sabine Siebold and Marine Strauss
(Reuters) - The European Union might halt air travel from places where a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa had spread, the bloc's executive said ahead of a meeting later on Friday of the 27 member states' envoys to decide the matter.
Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to the new variant, with the EU and Britain among those tightening border controls as scientists sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.
"The Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529," said the executive's head, Ursula von der Leyen.
A spokesman for the Brussels-based European Commission added that such a ban might be extended to other places where the variant has already been detected. These include Hong Kong and Israel.
"We need to act very fast, we need to be vigilant and we need to take all measures that are appropriate at this stage to prevent this virus from entering in Europe," said the spokesman.
"It's good that the member states are acting rapidly ... We want to have fast and coordinated and consistent measures in place because we want to avoid that there are loopholes through which the variant finds its way to Europe."
Britain banned flights from southern African countries after scientists said the new variant had a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which were concerning because they could evade immune response and be more transmissible.
First identified this week, the new variant spooked financial markets and stocks as it is seen as a risk to global economic recovery from two years of the pandemic.
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Edmund Blair)