Belgium said Friday it has detected the first announced case in Europe of the new Covid-19 variant, in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.

"We have a case that is now confirmed of this variant,"  B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told a media conference.

Europe rushed to ban travel from southern Africa on Friday to slow the spread of the new Covid-19 strain that scientists fear could torpedo efforts to beat the pandemic - read more here.

The infected person tested positive on November 22 and had not had Covid-19 before, he added, without giving further details.

A leading Belgian virologist, Marc Van Ranst, tweeted that the person had returned from Egypt on November 11.

Vandebroucke said: "It must be repeated that this is a suspect variant -- we don't know if it is a very dangerous variant."

He noted, however, that "as a precaution" Europe was stopping flights from southern Africa.

"So, total precaution but don't panic," he said, adding that Belgium's Covid-19 risk assessment group was analysing the situation.