(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines has immediately suspended flights from South Africa and six other countries until December 15 over concerns about a new coronavirus variant recently identified in the region. 

Travel restrictions are in effect immediately and also cover Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a statement Friday night. Passengers who have visited any of these countries in the 14 days before their arrival will also be temporarily barred from entry, he said. 

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The move follows similar restrictions by a number of places, such as Singapore, the U.K. and Hong Kong as scientists around the world race to determine how the new variant is likely to behave in people who’ve been vaccinated or previously infected. The World Health Organization called the strain a variant of concern, assigning it the Greek letter omicron. 

The fresh travel curbs are the latest example of the Philippines’ attempt to balance reopening while guarding against outbreaks. The Southeast Asian nation on Friday announced reopening of borders to tourists from what it considers low-risk areas, part of a spate of easing of restrictions after weeks of declining coronavirus infections.

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