A variant of corona is spreading in South Africa, which could be worse than Delta. Several countries tighten travel regulations. The federal government is also taking strict measures.
The discovery of a new Corona variant in South Africa is causing international unrest. Because of the newly emerged variant of the corona virus, the federal government is drastically restricting air traffic with South Africa. The Federal Ministry of Health announced on Friday that the country will be considered a virus variant area from Saturday night. “As a result, airlines are only allowed to carry German citizens to Germany.” In addition, all those who have entered would have to be in quarantine for 14 days – even if they are fully vaccinated.
“We were, are and will remain cautious when entering the country,” stressed Health Minister Jens Spahn. “This newly discovered variant worries us. We are therefore acting proactively and at an early stage. The last thing we are missing now is a new variant that has been introduced and that causes even more problems.”
The European Union also wants to cut air traffic from southern Africa. “In close cooperation with the Member States, the Commission will propose to activate the emergency brake in order to cease air traffic from southern Africa due to the worrying variant B.1.1.529,” tweeted EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Health expert Karl Lauterbach had previously expressed concern about the mutation and demanded travel restrictions: “We have to gain time. Nothing is worse than a new variant in a running wave,” wrote the SPD politician on Friday morning on Twitter.
The British government announced on Thursday evening a temporary suspension of travel to six African countries. Health Minister Sajid Javid said that all flights to Great Britain from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana would be canceled from Friday noon. The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to discuss B.1.1.529 in a special session on Friday.
There is evidence that the variant “may be more transmissible than the delta variant and that vaccines (…) may be less effective.” So far, the variant has not been proven in Great Britain, he added. British scientists, however, have expressed “very worried” about the development.
Travelers who arrive in Great Britain from one of the affected African countries by Friday would have to go into quarantine and do a PCR test on the second and eighth day. Javid also called on all travelers who had come from these countries in the past ten days to isolate and get tested.
Israel also classified the countries South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini as “red countries”. Foreigners are no longer allowed to enter Israel from these countries, said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office. When Israelis return home from these countries, they have to be in quarantine in a Corona hotel for up to 14 days, but can test themselves with two negative PCR tests after a week. The new variant will be closely monitored to prevent it from spreading in Israel, it said.
The Japanese government decided to tighten border controls for travelers from South Africa and five other African countries, the Jiji news agency reported. India is also reacting to the new coronavirus variant: International travelers from South Africa and other countries should be consistently tested and checked, as the Ministry of Health reported.
The WHO said it was watching the variant “closely”. At their deliberations on Friday, experts from the organization are expected to decide whether B.1.1.529 is to be classified as a variant “of interest” or as “a matter of concern”. It is also likely to be renamed to a letter of the Greek alphabet, as has been the case until now. “Early analyzes show that this variant has a high number of mutations that will require further studies,” said the WHO.
South African scientists had previously announced that the new variant with the scientific name B.1.1.529 was “cause for concern”. In the meantime, the variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa.
South Africa’s Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, described the variant as “seriously worrying” and as the cause of an “exponential” increase in reported cases in his country. The effectiveness of the vaccine against this virus variant is therefore still unclear. Phaahla said the new variant confirms the “fact that this invisible enemy is very unpredictable”. He called on the South Africans to wear masks, to keep their distance and, in particular, to get vaccinated. “We also have the extra vehicle of vaccination, which will help us avoid serious illnesses including ending up in clinic or even falling victim to the virus,” he said.
The number of new corona infections reported daily in South Africa has recently risen dramatically. On Wednesday, the authorities reported 1,200 new infections within 24 hours. At the beginning of November this value was still 106 cases. In South Africa, 35 percent of adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
According to the government’s national institute for communicable diseases (NICD), 22 cases of infection with the new corona variant have so far been detected in South Africa. In the province of Gauteng with the economic metropolis of Johannesburg, a rapid increase in the number of new infections overall and the positive rate can be observed, the NICD explained. More cases are to be expected in the course of the ongoing genome analyzes. “Although the data situation is still limited, our experts are working overtime with all monitoring systems in order to understand the new variant and the possible implications associated with it.”
The beta variant of the virus was discovered in South Africa last year. With around 2.95 million corona cases and more than 89,600 deaths, South Africa is the hardest hit country in Africa according to official figures.