Countries rush to close borders after new COVID variant identified in South Africa

Countries rush to close borders after new COVID variant identified in South Africa
Countries rush to close borders after new COVID variant identified in South Africa

More countries are tightening their travel restrictions following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa earlier this week.

The UK, Singapore and Japan are among those running in stricter quarantine measures, banning flights from South Africa to neighboring countries.

The EU proposes to ban flights from the region across the block. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the variant, but say they are very concerned.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would take several weeks to understand the impact of the new variant as scientists work to determine how transmissible it is.

The variant is very different from the others that have emerged so far. Scientists have said that it is the most severely mutated version to date, meaning that vaccines designed with the original Wuhan strain may not be as effective.

The new variant should be given an even more memorable name, like Delta or Beta, and is now known as B.1.1.529. The WHO is expected to call it a Friday.

The WHO says that so far less than 100 sample sequences have been reported. Cases have been confirmed mainly in South Africa but also in Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.

UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Friday that it was “most likely” to have spread to other countries.

Only about 24% of South Africa’s population is fully vaccinated, which could see a rapid spread of cases there, said Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modeling Group (Spi-M), the BBC on Friday.

In Hong Kong, the variant spread during the hotel quarantine between a person who arrived from South Africa and another hotel guest who tested positive a few days later, the health department revealed. Both were fully vaccinated.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Friday that it was “on the verge of an emergency” regarding the new variant, and that he would act “quickly, strongly and now”.

A case has been identified in a person returning from Malawi, according to Israeli media reports quoting the country’s health ministry. Another two suspected infections should still be confirmed with test results. All three should be completely vaccinated.