What is going so wrong for the Flight Centre (ASX:FLT) share price today?

Is this what’s weighing on Flight Centre’s stock today?

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pset man traveler with a medical mask on face sitting in airport or train station after delayed, missed or canceled departure.

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The Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd (ASX: FLT) share price is suffering amid headlines a new COVID-19 variant has spurred some countries to implement new border restrictions.

The United Kingdom has halted flights from 6 African nations after South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced it has identified a new COVID-19 variant, currently named B.1.1.529.

At the time of writing, the Flight Centre share price is $17.37, 6.21% lower than its previous closing price.

For context, the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) is down 1.3% right now.

Why is the Flight Centre share price falling?

The Flight Centre share price is struggling today after the announcement of a new hurdle facing the world’s reopening.

As of yesterday, South Africa had recorded 22 cases of the B.1.1.529 variant. Another 2 cases have been found in a Hong Kong hotel where it could have spread from a traveller arriving from South Africa. Cases have also been identified in Botswana.

The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations, as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These mutations might change the effectiveness of vaccines, treatments, and spread.

In a statement, NICD acting executive director Prof Adrian Puren stated:

[O]ur experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be.

The CEO of the UK Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, also commented:

This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity, and vaccine-susceptibility… This is a clear reminder to everyone that this pandemic is not over.

According to reporting by ABC News, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt has acknowledged the variant. However, he hasn’t acted to change Australia’s border restrictions. The publication quoted Hunt as saying: “If the medical advice is that we need to change [our border restrictions], we won’t hesitate.”

The Flight Centre share price isn’t alone in its tumble today. The share prices of Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) and Webjet Limited (ASX: WEB) are both down around 5%.

News of the B1.1.529 variant follows reports that Belgium increased COVID-19 restrictions and Austria entered a lockdown earlier this week. The measures to prevent spread followed the outbreak of a fourth wave of cases in parts of the continent.

Additionally, new COVID-19 cases surged 16.1% in the United States last week.

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Motley Fool contributor Brooke Cooper has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Flight Centre Travel Group Limited and Webjet Ltd. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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