Europe Is Moving to Limit travel from South Africa over Variant
As a new variant of the COVID-19 emerges in South Africa, European Nations move to restrict travel from the region.
As nations hurry to avoid the spread of a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations, Germany and Italy followed Britain in prohibiting most travel to South Africa on Friday.
In a reflection of the mounting concern, the European Union has proposed a separate ban on travel from the southern African region.
The @EU_Commission 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.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021
On Friday, EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted that the EU 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,"
Jens Spahn, Germany's Federal Minister of Health announced that Germany's new travel restrictions, which take effect Friday night, will concern South Africa and "possibly neighboring nations". He added that only German nationals will be allowed to fly.
German nationals will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, even if they are vaccinated, the minister announced.
Spahn added, referring to Germany's fierce fourth wave of the pandemic, "The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems."
The Italian government announced on Friday that anyone who has spent the previous two weeks in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, or Eswatini will be denied admission to the country.
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said: "In the interim, we will follow the road of extreme prudence," adding that specialists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant.
Starting from 1200 GMT on Friday, all flights from South Africa and its immediate neighbors to the UK will be prohibited. The decision of the United Kingdom was harshly criticized by South Africa.
South Africa's Foreign Ministry commented on the issue in a statement, saying that "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," adding that "even the World Health Organization (WTO) is yet to advise on the next steps."
What is the new Covid-19 variant?
South African officials have detected a new version of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, known as B.1.1.529, which they describe as "highly concerning." Fears that a new strain might fuel outbreaks in many countries, put pressure on health systems, and complicate efforts to restore economies and borders drove a wave of risk aversion through global markets on Friday, according to a report by bloomberg.
What’s new about this variant?
According to scientists, B.1.1.529 has a large number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a role in the virus's entry into cells. It's also what immunizations are designed to combat. Researchers are still attempting to figure out if it's more contagious or deadly than earlier variants.