Alarmed by COVID variant detected in South Africa, Europe and Asia tightens borders, bans flights
Global authorities responded with alarm last Friday to a new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa, with the EU, UK and India among those announcing stricter border controls as scientists tried to determine if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.
Britain banned flights from South Africa and neighboring countries and quarantined British travelers returning from there, while EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU also aimed to halt flights from the region.
Researchers are still learning about the variant that was identified this week, but the news hit global and oil amid fears of what new travel bans would do to already shaken economies in southern Africa.
The variant has a peak protein that is dramatically different from that of the original coronavirus on which COVID-19 vaccines are based, said the UK Health Safety Agency, raising fears about how current vaccines successful against the more well-known delta variant will handle. .
“As scientists have described, [this is] the most significant variant they have encountered to date, ”British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is to hold a meeting in Geneva at 11 GMT. Experts will discuss the risks it poses and whether it should be identified as a variant of interest or variant of concern, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier.
Nearly 100 sequences of the variant have been reported, and early analysis shows it has “a large number of mutations” that require further investigation, Lindmeier said.
An epidemiologist said it may be too late to tighten travel edges.
“I think we have to recognize that this virus is most likely already elsewhere. And so if we close the door now, it will probably be too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.
South Africa will talk to British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their ban, the Foreign Ministry in Pretoria said. “Our immediate concern is the damage this decision will cause to both the tourism industry and businesses in both countries,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.
‘ACTES STRONGLY, FAST AND NOW’
The variant, called B.1.1.529, has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, according to the British Health Security Agency. Israel said it was preventing its citizens from traveling to southern Africa after a case of the new tribe was found in a traveler returning from Malawi.
“We are currently on the brink of a state of emergency,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, according to a statement from his office.
“Our main principle is to act fast, strong and now.”
European countries had already expanded booster vaccinations and tightened curbs, while the continent is battling a fourth wave of coronavirus, led by the delta variant, with many reporting record-breaking daily increases in cases.
The new wave and the discovery of the new variant comes as Europe and the United States enter the winter, where more people gather indoors in the time leading up to Christmas, providing fertile ground for infection.
Italy has imposed an entry ban on people who have visited South African states within the last 14 days, and Germany will declare South Africa a virus variant area, a source in the health ministry said.
India issued a guide to all states to test and screen international travelers from South Africa and other “vulnerable” countries after easing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health said it would also restrict arrivals from the region, and Japan tightened border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries.
The coronavirus has swept across the world in the two years that have passed since it was first identified in central China, infecting nearly 260 million people and killing 5.4 million.
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