Southern African variant: France suspends flights in the face of threat

A new variant of Covid-19 in South Africa and the borders are closing: the European Commission proposed this Friday, November 26 to suspend flights from southern Africa, several member countries having reacted without delay, including France, all like the UK.

France is immediately suspending arrivals from seven southern African countries, including South Africa, due to “The discovery of a new variant of the particularly worrying coronavirus”, Matignon announced to AFP. This measure, applied “For a minimum period of 48 hours”, also applies to travelers from Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

“People who have traveled in the last 14 days in one of these countries are invited to report to the authorities and to perform an RT-PCR screening test as soon as possible”.

Same decision in Germany, Italy and UK

“The European Commission will propose, in close coordination with the Member States, to activate the emergency brake to interrupt air travel from the southern African region”, had tweeted in the morning its president Ursula von der Leyen.

The European executive is due to make a proposal to the representatives of the member states at a meeting scheduled for Friday. “The situation is changing very quickly; we want to make sure we do our best to slow the spread of this variant ”, told AFP a spokesperson for the Commission.

This announcement is yet another blow to tourism in South Africa, just before the southern summer when animal parks and hotels are normally full.

Britain has already banned flights from South Africa and five neighboring countries as of 12 p.m. GMT on Friday.

Fall of world stock markets

A decision denounced as “Hasty” by the South African government, agree to respect “The right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens” but hoping that London can reconsider its 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% at 9:30 GMT.

The Netherlands has also banned flights from five southern African countries. In Germany, where the threshold of 100,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 was crossed on Thursday, only German citizens will be allowed to return from South Africa from Friday evening, and on condition of respecting a quarantine of 14 days, even if they are vaccinated, announced the outgoing German Minister of Health Jens Spahn.

“The Last Thing We Need”

“The last thing we need now is the introduction of a new variant which causes even more problems”, justified the German minister. Some German hospitals are saturated and the debate on compulsory vaccination for all in Germany, as Austria has just decided, is on the table.

Italy also banned its territory on Friday from anyone who has stayed in southern Africa. “In the last 14 days”. In Asia, Singapore announced a similar ban effective Sunday, except for its nationals and residents.

The detection of this new variant of Covid-19, potentially very contagious and with multiple mutations, was announced Thursday in South Africa. So far, 22 cases have been reported, mostly affecting young people, according to the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Cases have also been reported in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, on a person returning from a trip to South Africa.

Israel has also announced a case of this new variant: “This is a person who has returned from Malawi”, said the Israeli Ministry of Health, saying it fears “Two additional cases of persons returning from abroad” and placed in containment.

These three people were vaccinated against Covid-19, the Ministry of Health said in its press release without specifying the number of doses or the type of vaccine.

“Potential for very rapid spread”

At this point, South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new form of the virus. The new variant, which was first detected in South Africa, has a number “Extremely high” mutations and “We can see that it has a potential for very rapid spread”, explained the virologist Tulio de Oliveira Thursday, during a press briefing of 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.

Metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible, to the point of making the variant dominant. “What concerns us is that this variant may not only have an increased transmission capacity, but also be able to bypass parts of our immune system”said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.

At the World Health Organization (WHO), the experts responsible for monitoring the evolution of the virus giving Covid-19 must meet Friday at midday to determine the dangerousness of the new variant. The UN agency has not ceased since 2020 to ask rich countries to prioritize vaccination first in the poorest countries, rather than launching a 3rd booster dose.

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In South Africa, 28.24% of people have received at least one dose and 23.8% are fully vaccinated, according to South African health data as of November 24.

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