World takes action as new variant emerges in southern AfricaFriday, November 26, 2021
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — A slew of nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday, and stocks plunged in Asia and Europe in reaction to news of a new, potentially more transmissible COVID-19 variant.
“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union, which is recommending a ban on flights from southern African nations.
Within a few days of the discovery of the new variant, it has already impacted on a jittery world that is sensitive to bad COVID-19 news, with deaths around the globe standing at well over 5 million.
“Early indications show this variant may be more transmissible than the delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers. “We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” he said.
Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant.
“We have one case of this variant that is confirmed. It's someone who came from abroad,” said Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. “It's a suspicious variant. We don't know if it's a very dangerous variant.”
Israel, one of the world's most vaccinated countries, announced Friday that it has also detected the country's first case of the new variant, in a traveler who returned from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.
Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, warned against any overreaction before all elements were clear.
Speaking before the EU announcement, Dr Michael Ryan, the head of emergencies at the WHO said that “it's really important that there are no knee-jerk responses.”
“We've seen in the past, the minute there's any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It's really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” he said.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed stating that it “strongly discourages the imposition of travel ban for people originating from countries that have reported this variant,” it said adding that “over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travelers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome.”
Those urgings quickly fell on deaf ears with the UK announcing that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.
Germany said its flight ban could be enacted as soon as Friday night. Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travelers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.
Italy's health ministry also announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations — South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini — in the past 14 days due to the new variant. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic are planning similar measures.
The Japanese government announced that from Friday, Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine at government-dedicated accommodation for 10 days and do a COVID test on Day 3, Day 6 and Day 10. Japan has not yet opened up to foreign nationals.