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New COVID Variant B11529: Countries Tighten Border Restrictions

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, confirms that through collaborative efforts with private laboratories and the NGS-SA members, a new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.529 (until a Greek name is assigned by the WHO) has been detected in South Africa.

Twenty-two positive cases of variant B.1.1.529 have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing collaborations between the NICD and private laboratories. In addition, other NGS-SA laboratories are confirming more cases as sequencing results come out.

“It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa,” comments Prof Adrian Puren, NICD Acting Executive Director. He adds that, “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”

Detected cases and percent testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo. Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD says that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples. She stresses that regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions remains unchanged and the public are urged to be responsible. “This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well ventilated spaces.” She concludes with, “Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant.”

National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa

[b]Summary – What we know about the new COVID-19 variant currently [\b]
– B.1.1.529, to be named Nu variant

– 32 mutations in spike protein

– Earliest known case: South Africa, Nov. 12

– Fears it could be more transmissible, evades immunity

– SA reports 2,465 new cases, up 321% from last week

Confirmed (Probable) cases of new Coronavirus variant B.1.1.529: – Live data!

– South Africa: 77 (990)
– Botswana: 4 (-)
– Hong Kong: 2 (-)
– Israel: 1 (2)
– Belgium: – 1 (1) (1st confirmed case in Europe)

All having a travel history from South Africa or Botswana:

Ursula Von der Leyen, the European Commission President has proposed an “emergency” halt to flights entering Europe from the Southern Africa Nations.

The 27-nation bloc will decide in the coming hours.

The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.

However, some EU nations have been quicker to react:

The UK

@UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.

From noon tomorrow (Friday), six African countries [South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana], will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.

Germany

Germany will, among other things, declare South Africa and other “neighbouring nations,” to be a virus variant area. With the entry into force tonight, airlines will only be allowed to airlift citizens to Germany, and 14 days of quarantine will apply to everyone, including those who have been vaccinated.

We remain cautious when entering the country. The newly discovered variant # B11529 worries us, so we act pro-actively and early. The last thing we are missing now is a new variant that has been introduced and causes even more problems.

Jens Georg Spahn, Germany’s Minister for Health

Italy

I signed a new ordinance banning entry to Italy for anyone who has been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini in the last 14 days.

Our scientists are hard at work studying variant B.1.1.529. In the meantime, maximum precaution.

Roberto Speranza, Italy’s Minister of Health

France

French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Friday said France suspended flights arriving from the southern African region for 48 hours. The new variant has not yet been detected in France, Véran added.

SOURCE

Austria

New entry regulations from midnight for South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia & Eswatini because of the # Nu variant:
Entry from these countries is prohibited. They are classified as virus variant areas in Austria.

Austrian Citizens are entitled to enter the country, but have to adhere to 10 days of # quarantine, a # PCR test upon entry & #registration. Additionally: landing ban for flights from these 7 African countries.

The #Regulation comes into force at midnight today. There is a particular reason to be careful with the new variant

Wolfgang Mückstein, Minister of Social Affairs, Health Care and Consumer Protection

Netherlands

As of today 12:00 noon, there will be a no-fly zone for countries in southern Africa. These countries are classified as very high-risk areas. This means a quarantine and double testing obligation for travelers from these countries.

Hugo Mattheüs de Jonge, Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Passengers on South African flight not allowed to get off in Amsterdam amid concern about new COVID variant; testing and quarantine expected.

Czech Republic

Travel – IMPORTANT❗We @ZdravkoOnline respond to the spread of a new variant of the virus. From Saturday, entry into the Czech Republic will be prohibited for citizens of 3rd countries who have stayed for more than 12 hours in the last 14 days in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia.

❗Travel – IMPORTANT❗For Czech citizens, #EU and holders of long-term stays in the Czech Republic, it is possible to enter from the above-mentioned African countries only under strict epidemiological conditions. At the same time, we strongly recommend that Czechs do not travel to these areas now. It is still valid until 12.12.

Jakub Kulhanek, Czech Foreign Affairs Minister

Other Asian Countries are also tightening border restrictions:-

Malaysia

Malaysian citizens and permanent residents returning to Malaysia from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, or with a 14-day travel history to those countries, will need to undergo compulsory quarantine for 14 days at a designated quarantine station, and not at home.

Malaysian citizens who have made plans to travel to the southern African countries listed will not be allowed to proceed with their travels, while foreigners with a travel history within the last 14 days to those southern African countries will be temporarily barred from entering Malaysia.

“The Ministry of Health (MOH) views the emergence of this new variant seriously and we will improve genomic surveillance, including on arriving individuals from countries that have reported cases of this new variant.

SOURCE

Japan

Japan will tighten border controls for people arriving from six African nations from midnight (1500 GMT on Friday) after a new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant was detected in South Africa.

Those arriving from South Africa, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine period in government-determined accommodation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

SOURCE

Singapore

There have been recent reports of a potentially more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus, the B.1.1.529 which may be circulating in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

In the meantime, we should take the necessary precautions to reduce the risks of spread of B.1.1.529 to Singapore. We are therefore putting in place new restrictions for travellers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. From 27 November 2021, 2359 hours:

All long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. This restriction will apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

Returning Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents will be subjected to a 10-day SHN at dedicated SDF.

Ministry of Health, Singapore

Israel

Israel announced on Thursday it was barring its citizens from travelling to southern Africa and banning the entry of foreigners from the region, unless they receive special permission from Israel’s health ministry.

South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini were added to Israel’s “red”, or highest-risk, travel list that reflects coronavirus infection rates overseas.

Israelis returning home from those countries would be required to spend between 7-14 days in a quarantine hotel after arrival.

SOURCE

India

It is therefore imperative that ALL international travellers travelling from (Botswana, Hong Kong and South Africa) and transiting through these countries, and also including all risk’ countries are subjected to rigorous screening and testing.

The contacts of these international
travellers must also be closely tracked and tested.

SOURCE

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States has stated that the US is awaiting better information before reaching decisions on travel bans.

However, South Africa has criticised the UK on her hurried decision to ban flights from South Africa even as the World Health Organization (WHO) is yet to advise on the next steps.

Nalendi Prandor, South Africa’s prandor International Relations Minister, has assured the Country will engage British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their decision, following effects the decision will have on the economy and tourism.

A closed-door experts’ meeting convened by the WHO, is presently holding (in Geneva) to assess and properly understand the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 and to designate it as either a variant of interest or a variant of concern.

The WHO also cautioned against imposing travel bans:-
“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against. The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

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