Asia and Europe tighten restrictions on travel from Africa due to new variant of Covid-19

Global authorities reacted this Friday with alarm to the new variant of coronavirus detected in South Africa, with the European Union, the United Kingdom and India among which announced the tightening of their border controls while scientists tried to determine if the mutation is resistant to vaccines current.

UK temporarily banned flights from South Africa and neighboring countries, asking British travelers returning from these destinations to quarantine themselves, while the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, reported the intention of the block to interrupt flights with southern Africa.

Scientists are still learning about the variant, first identified earlier this week, but the news plunged global stocks and oil amid fears of the effect that new travel restrictions could have on already damaged African economies. for the pandemic.

The variant has a protein of spike that is extremely different from the original coronavirus on which Covid-19 vaccines are based, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising fears about the likelihood of success of current injections, so far effective against the more well-known delta variant.

As scientists have described it, (this is) the most notable variant they have detected to date, “British Transport Minister Grant Shapps said in an interview with the Sky News channel.

The World Health Organization will hold an expert meeting in Geneva at 11:00 GMT. Experts in the field will discuss the risks that the new variant B.1.1.529 of the Covid-19 raises and whether it should be declared as a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” (according to the nomenclature used by the WHO), according to a spokesman for the organization.

Nearly 100 sequences of the variant have been reported, with initial analyzes showing that it has “a large number of mutations” that require further study, the WHO spokesman said.

An epidemiologist said it may be too late to tighten travel restrictions.

“I think we have to recognize that this virus is most likely already present elsewhere. This way, if we close the door now, it will probably be too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.

South African authorities will contact the UK authorities to try to reconsider their ban, the country’s Foreign Ministry reported in Pretoria.

“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to the tourism sector and companies of both countries,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

“Quickly, energetically, now”

The variant, identified as B.1.1.529, has also been identified in Botswana and Hong Kong, according to the UK Health Security Agency. Israel said it will ban its citizens from traveling to southern Africa after detecting a case of the new variant in a traveler returning from Malawi.

“We are on the verge of a state of emergency,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, according to a statement released by his office.

Our main criteria is to act fast, energetically, now, “he said.

Several European countries had previously expanded the scope of their booster vaccination and tightened their restrictions, with the continent fighting a fourth wave of coronavirus, led by the better known Delta variant. Many countries in the region have reported a record daily increase in cases.

The new wave and the discovery of the new variant comes at a time when both Europe and the United States are preparing for the boreal winter, with more people holding meetings indoors in the middle of the pre-Christmas season, creating an ideal breeding ground for infections. .

Italy imposed an entry ban on people who have visited a group of southern African states in the last 14 days, while Germany to declare South Africa virus variant zone after the detection of the new variant in that country, said a source from the German Ministry of Health.

After relaxing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month, the Government of India issued a warning to all states to test and rigorously monitor international travelers from South Africa and other “risky” countries. “.

Singapore’s Health Ministry said it will restrict arrivals from South Africa and nearby countries as a precaution, while Japan tightened border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries.

The coronavirus has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting nearly 260 million people and killing 5.4 million.

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