From Singapore, Germany to Britain, new coronavirus variant sparks Africa travel curbs


Governments across the world are scrambling to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 variant — B.1.1.529 — which has a large number of mutations

From Singapore, Germany to Britain, new coronavirus variant sparks Africa travel curbs

Representational image. AP

A new variant of COVID-19

is around the corner and the world is huddling to deal with it.

On Thursday, a new coronavirus variant — B.1.1.529 — with a large number of mutations first was detected in South Africa. Scientists flagged it as a dangerous variant, saying it showed the capability of being vaccine-resistant and easily transmissible.

As the world takes note of this new variant, governments scrambled to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations.

Britain

Britain took swift action and announced that all flights from South Africa and its same neighbours would be prohibited starting at 1200 GMT on Friday.

“The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These are potentially biologically significant mutations that may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility. More investigation is required,” UK Health Security Agency said in a statement.

South Africa sharply condemned Britain’s decision.

“Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Germany

Germany too announced flight restrictions to battle the spread of the new variant.

Germany’s new travel restrictions, starting Friday night, will affect South Africa and “probably neighbouring nations”, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, with only German nationals allowed entry.

They must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival even if vaccinated.

“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” Spahn said, with Germany in the grip of a ferocious fourth wave of the pandemic.

Italy

In Rome, the government on Friday announced it was banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past fortnight.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, “and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution”.

Singapore

Health officials in Singapore announced that it would restrict arrivals from seven African countries.

All non-Singaporeans and people without permanent residency in the city-state who have recent travel history to the seven countries will be barred from entering or transiting through Singapore, the health ministry said.

The new restrictions, which will take effect from Sunday, apply to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, the ministry said.

Singapore citizens and foreigners holding permanent resident status in the city-state of 5.5 million arriving from those countries can still enter but will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine.

European Union

In a sign of the growing alarm, the European Union separately proposed prohibiting travel from southern Africa.

The EU’s executive “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted Friday.

India

While India hasn’t announced a ban on flights yet, the government has asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

In a letter to additional chief secretaries or principal secretaries or secretaries (Health) of the states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked them to ensure that samples of travellers turning positive are sent to the designated IGSLS or genome sequencing laboratories promptly.

Official sources said that the new COVID-19 variant has not been found in India so far.

With inputs from agencies

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