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Covid-19: faced with the new variant, Europe and France are getting bored

The so-called B.1.1.529 is not welcome in Europe. Its profile of “super-variant” – it would be carrier according to the first analyzes of about thirty mutations of its Spike protein, which suggests resistance to vaccines against Covid-19 – worries the health authorities of the continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for caution, the analysis of this new strain of Covid-19 will take time. It also advises against taking travel restriction measures.

Too late. Experiences of rapid spread with the dangerous Alpha variants last winter and Delta in the spring are pushing states to act quickly. The UK was the first to ban flights from South Africa and five other neighboring countries as of midday Friday.

The European Commission also proposed this Friday to suspend flights from southern Africa, where it was detected for the first time in early November. “The situation is changing very quickly. We want to make sure we do our best to slow the spread of this variant,” a Commission spokesperson told AFP. Some of its member countries, including France, have already taken the lead.

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France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy …

France followed in the footsteps of the United Kingdom on Friday by pronouncing the immediate suspension of arrivals from seven southern African countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. “People who have traveled during the last fourteen days in one of these countries are invited to report to the authorities and to carry out an RT-PCR screening test as soon as possible”, added the Prime Minister’s office in Matignon .

The Netherlands has also banned flights from five southern African countries. In Germany, only German citizens will be allowed to return from South Africa from Friday evening, and on condition of respecting a quarantine of fourteen days, even if they are vaccinated, announced the outgoing German Minister of Health Jens. Spahn. “The last thing we need now is the introduction of a new variant which is causing even more problems,” he said.

Italy finally, too, this Friday banned its territory to anyone who has stayed in southern Africa “during the last 14 days”.

Globally, in Asia, Singapore announced a ban similar to the UK’s effective Sunday, except for its nationals and residents. Japan is also rife. People arriving from southern Africa on or after Saturday will be subject to a ten-day quarantine at a location chosen by the government. They will have to undergo a Covid test on their arrival in Japan, and three others during this quarantine. Drastic.

A prejudice for South Africa

Reacting to the only London restriction at first, the South African government denounced a “hasty” decision. “Our immediate concern is the damage this decision will cause to the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

Fears related to this new variant, detected at a time when health restrictions are causing social tensions and mistrust of vaccination persists, have caused oil prices to drop and led to sharp drops in world stock markets. Tokyo lost 2.53% at the close and Frankfurt and London more than 3% at the opening. The flagship CAC 40 index of the Paris Bourse fell 3.79% Friday morning.

So far, only a handful of cases have been officially detected in South Africa, Botswana, but also in Hong Kong and Israel, among travelers from the African continent.

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Its potential for spread is, however, “very fast”, warned virologist Tulio de Oliveira on Thursday at a press briefing from the South African Ministry of Health. His team at the KRISP research institute, backed by the University of Kwazulu-Natal, had already discovered the highly contagious Beta variant last year.


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