Europe bans flights to southern Africa because of the new Covid tribe

BRUSSELS: Europe rushed to ban travel from southern Africa on Friday to slow the spread of a new Covid-19 strain that scientists fear could torpedo efforts to beat the pandemic.
Global markets plunged as news sank into that a new variant that is more contagious than Delta and possibly more resistant to vaccines could potentially hit the global recovery hard.
Researchers are now in the race to determine the characteristics and threat of the highly mutated strain, designated B.1.1.529.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it could take several weeks to understand the variant and warned against introducing new travel edge bars.
“The WHO recommends that countries continue to take a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures … implementing travel measures is being warned against,” said spokesman Christian Lindmeier.
Europe is already struggling to cope with a new rise in coronavirus, and recurring restrictions have triggered riots in some countries.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands joined the UK on Friday by announcing travel bans.
The bans covered all of South Africa, and in many cases also some or all of the following: Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The European Commission said it would quickly coordinate a joint effort between the bloc’s 27 member states.
“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that is causing even more problems,” said Germany’s acting health minister Jens Spahn as his country battled a violent fourth wave of the pandemic.
The rush to close southern Africa comes a day after researchers in Johannesburg said they had discovered the new strain with at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta.
The variant was of “serious concern” and had been blamed for an increase in the number of infections, South African authorities said on Thursday.
It had also been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa.
Israel said it had quarantined three people, all vaccinated, identified with the new variant, one of whom had just returned from Malawi.
The WHO said it was “closely monitoring” the variant and considering whether it should be described as a variant of “interest” or “concern”.
It was also up to the WHO to decide whether the tribe should give a name taken from the Greek alphabet, as for previously large variants such as Delta.
Terrified of the variant, European markets fell by three percent, with airlines’ shares in particular being hit. Tokyo closed 2.53 percent, after losing more than three percent in the middle of the day.
The new variant broke out on the scene when European countries announced new measures to counter the devastation of the Delta variant, which in turn leads to a critical shortage of hospital beds.
Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal – which have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – have all announced new measures in recent days to stem a wave of infections that have been worse than feared.
Authorities in the Netherlands were preparing for new riots ahead of an expected announcement Friday by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to tighten a partial blockade as infections reach record levels.
Belgium, which saw similar scenes of violence last weekend, is also expected to announce new measures.
As a sign that the new rise shattered hopes of a slow return to normalcy, EU Council President Charles Michel canceled a visit to Japan and South Korea over a positive case among his cabinet in Brussels.
In Asia, China’s strict zero-Covid policy pushed Shanghai to cancel hundreds of flights and close some schools after three local cases were registered, health officials said Friday.
“China has accumulated a wealth of experience in ‘Dynamic Zero Covid,'” Zhang Wenhong, head of the Shanghai Covid Prevention Expert Task Force, said at a Thursday briefing.
The Philippines said Friday it would welcome back next week, vaccinating foreign tourists from countries designated as low-risk countries.
But the effects of the pandemic have pushed even the most hardened skeptics on the world stage to embrace some antivirus measures.
“As far as I am concerned, we should not have a carnival” in February, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said.


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