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On Friday, in the South African town of Parys. South Africans were subjected to travel restrictions in a number of countries as a result of mounting concerns about the new strain. Credit… Shutterstock/EPA/Kim Ludbrook
On Friday, a growing number of countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Italy, and Singapore, announced travel restrictions imposed on South Africa and other countries in the region, a day after South African authorities discovered a worrying new coronavirus variant with mutations that one scientist described as a “big jump in evolution.”
In the past, governments have taken days, weeks, or months to respond to new variations by imposing travel restrictions. This time, the limits came only hours after South Africa’s disclosure — and just hours before the country’s health authorities met with WHO officials to discuss the variant.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel ordered flight restrictions from South Africa and numerous neighboring nations, citing the danger of the new strain. South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are among the six nations affected by Britain’s flying ban, which takes effect at noon local time on Friday.
Sajid Javid, the British health minister, stated on Twitter, “More data is required, but we’re taking safeguards now.”
“While no cases have been found so far on French soil,” France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, said in a statement, adding that anybody in France who has recently been to those countries should get tested and identify themselves to authorities.
According to Israel’s public TV, Kan, the limitations were put in place immediately after a case of the new type was discovered in a recent arrival from Malawi.
On Friday, the governments of Croatia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Japan, and Singapore imposed similar limitations. Markets in Japan were down as a result of the variant’s discovery, and authorities in Australia and New Zealand indicated they were keeping a careful eye on it.
In a statement, Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, used the variation’s scientific nomenclature to say, “Our experts are at work to research the novel B.1.1.529 variant.” “In the meanwhile, we’re taking extra precautions.”
In a tweet on Friday morning, Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive arm, warned that due to worries about the variant, the EU will consider banning aviation travel to European nations from southern Africa.
Due to the version of concern B.1.1.529, the @EU Commission will propose, in close consultation with Member States, activating the emergency brake to halt air transport from the southern African area.
November 26, 2021 — Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen)
Scientists discovered the version in the last two days after seeing a rise in illnesses in Johannesburg, South Africa’s industrial powerhouse. Only a few of instances have been discovered thus far in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel, and Botswana.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of variations have evolved. One of the main concerns regarding them is whether they would stifle the virus’s battle or reduce the efficiency of immunizations. On Friday, South African experts will meet with a technical team from the World Health Organization to discuss the new variety, which will be assigned a letter of the Greek alphabet by the authorities.
South Africa said it would urge Britain to reconsider its travel restrictions in a statement posted on its government website on Friday, saying: “The United Kingdom’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the United Kingdom appears to have been rushed, as even the World Health Organization has yet to advise on the next steps.”
South Africa was the first country to notice the Beta variant’s debut in December of last year, and it has since spread to over 70 nations. Some clinical studies have showed that immunizations provide less protection against the Beta version, which has alarmed scientists. Since then, the more virulent and aggressive Delta variety has spread around the globe, and it is thought to be fuelling the current outbreak.
South Africa’s daily infection rate, at over 1,200 new infections, is far lower than Germany’s, where new cases are driving a wave. The density of mutations on this new version, on the other hand, raises concerns that it might be extremely infectious, prompting experts to issue an early warning.
“This variation surprised us,” said Tulio de Oliveira, head of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. “It has a large leap in evolution, many more mutations than we anticipated, particularly after a very severe third wave of Delta.”
Reporting was supplied by Emma Bubola, John Yoon, and Aurelien Breeden.
— Andrés R. Martnez, Lynsey Chutel, and Mike Ives
In South Africa, more than 40% of people have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Credit… Associated Press/Themba Hadebe
Scientists aren’t sure how successful immunizations will be against a new variety discovered by a team in South Africa, which has changes that might make it resistant to neutralization. So yet, just a few dozen cases have been confirmed in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel.
According to Tulio de Oliveira, head of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, the new variety, B.1.1.529, contains a “quite uncommon constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 in the spike protein alone.
The novel variation includes ten mutations in the ACE2 receptor, which aids in the creation of an entrance site for the coronavirus to infect human cells. According to Mr. de Oliveira, the Beta variation has three and the Delta variant has two.
According to Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, the variation is related to the Lambda and Beta variants, which are linked to innate immune evasion.
“All of these aspects make us concerned that this variety may not only have increased transmissibility, allowing it to spread more quickly, but also that it may be able to bypass portions of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Dr. Lessells stated.
The new variety was mostly discovered in young individuals, who are also the group with the lowest vaccination rate in South Africa. According to Dr. Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s minister of health, little over a quarter of persons aged 18 to 34 get vaccinated.
While the variant’s cases are concentrated in the nation’s economic center, notably Pretoria, the virus is “just a matter of time” until it spreads throughout the country as schools end and families prepare to travel for the holiday season, according to Dr. Phaahla.
Pedestrians in Hong Kong wearing face masks. Credit… Shutterstock/EPA/Jerome Favre
On Thursday, the Hong Kong government said that it has discovered two instances of a new strain discovered in South Africa, which experts have described as a “major step in evolution” that might restrict vaccination efficacy.
The illnesses were discovered in a guy who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa earlier this month, and subsequently in another man living in the same quarantine hotel across the hall. (Almost all foreign visitors to Hong Kong are required to stay in hotels for two to three weeks.) According to the city’s Center for Health Protection, the virus’s genetic sequence was similar in both males, indicating airborne transmission. Both males had been immunized.
Officials added that further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong showed that the viruses belonged to the novel South African variation, however they admitted that information concerning the variant’s public health implications was “still inadequate.”
Some Hong Kong specialists have questioned the duration and effectiveness of Hong Kong’s quarantines, pointing out that authorities have documented multiple examples of quarantine hotel inmates presumably infecting those sleeping in adjacent rooms.
The authorities has accused the first guy for not wearing a surgical mask while opening his hotel room door, as well as “unsatisfactory air flow” at the hotel, for the current variant illnesses. There had been no complaints of illnesses in adjoining rooms as of Friday afternoon.
The emergence of the new variety might make attempts to reopen the Hong Kong-Mainland China border more difficult. For months, Hong Kong officials have stated that resuming quarantine-free travel between the Chinese territory and the mainland — one of the few places in the world still pursuing a virus containment strategy aimed at complete eradication — is their top priority, despite the fact that the strategy has harmed the city’s reputation as a global financial center.
Mainland authorities claim Hong Kong isn’t doing enough to combat the virus, despite the fact that the city has only had two domestically transmitted cases in the previous six months. Additional domestic outbreaks have just been detected on the mainland; the National Health Commission announced four new local cases on Thursday.
Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, John Lee, said on Thursday evening that mainland authorities had notified him earlier in the day that Hong Kong had “essentially satisfied” the requirements for the border to reopen. Details, such as the adoption of a mainland-style “health code” app, which has sparked privacy concerns, would need to be worked out, he added.
Mr. Lee responded simply that the Hong Kong authorities would “ensure that proper investigation and monitoring are done in this respect” when asked whether the new variation would postpone reopening with the mainland.
“Of course, any additional hazards must be managed and controlled,” he stated.
On Thursday, the Bremen Christmas market was open. Many of these marketplaces have been discontinued as the number of illnesses and fatalities has increased. Credit… Shutterstock/Focke Strangmann/EPA
After almost 20 months of pandemic lockdowns, governments throughout Europe are tightening restrictions anew in response to the recent wave of new coronavirus infections, jeopardizing the region’s progress against the epidemic.
France is rushing to provide booster vaccinations to all adults, and any who reject will have their health cards revoked. With a vaccination rate of 68 percent, deaths are on the rise in Germany, a concerning trend for a country with such a high immunization rate. Austria has been under a state of emergency since Monday, and vaccines are now required.
Vaccination rates are lower in Eastern Europe than the rest of the continent, where far-right and populist movements have fanned vaccine mistrust. Bulgaria is reverting to shutdowns or other restrictive measures, despite the fact that a quarter of the population is completely vaccinated.
The rapidly worsening situation in Europe is concerning for the US, where the seven-day average of new cases has increased by 24% in the last two weeks. (In the United States, the number of new fatalities recorded has decreased by 6%.) New case trends in the United States have tended to be a few weeks behind those in Europe.
“We’ve seen how infection patterns in Europe are reproduced here many weeks later,” Carissa F. Etienne, the Pan American Health Organization’s head, told reporters on Wednesday. “The future is developing in front of us, and it must serve as a wake-up call for our area, as we are becoming ever more vulnerable.”
While new infections are on the rise, the White House argues that the US can avoid European-style lockdowns.
The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, stated last week, “We are not moving in that path.” “We have the means to hasten the end of the pandemic: widely accessible vaccines, booster injections, children’s vaccines, and medicines.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, however, said that some nations had fallen into a “false feeling of security.”
“While Europe is once again the hub of the epidemic, no nation or area is out of the woods,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday.
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