Suspended flights, stock exchange … the new variant of southern Africa raises concern

Concern is growing after South Africa announces the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus in “Potential for very rapid spread”. The United Kingdom announced Thursday, November 25 in the evening that it would ban entry to travelers from six African countries: flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini , Zimbabwe and Botswana will be suspended as of this Friday at 12 p.m. GMT.

The European Commission, through its President Ursula Von der Leyen, has also proposed to suspend flights from southern Africa. Germany also announced this Friday morning to refuse short-term foreign travelers from South Africa.

This variant B.1.1.529 has a number “Extremely high” mutations and “We can see that it has a potential for very rapid spread”, said virologist Tulio de Oliveira, of the South African Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, at an online press conference chaired by the South African Department of Health on November 25.

“The Covid-19 will still be circulating in ten years”

So far, 22 cases have been reported, mostly affecting young people, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), a South African public health institute. Cases have also been reported in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, on a person returning from a trip to South Africa.

“The number of cases detected and the percentage of positive tests are increasing rapidly”, NICD said in a statement, notably in the most populous province of Gauteng, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg.

At least 10 mutations

Metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible, to the point of making the variant dominant, as was the case with the Delta variant initially discovered in India. It has, according to the World Health Organization, reduced the effectiveness of anti-Covid vaccines against disease transmission to 40%.

South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new form of the virus. WHO said ” to follow closely “ this new variant and must meet this Friday, November 26 to determine its dangerousness. According to scientists, the new variant B.1.1.529 has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for the Delta.

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As a result, the Tokyo Stock Exchange fell 3% this Friday at midday because of fears related to this new variant. “There are fears that if the existing vaccines do not work (in the face of this variant, editor’s note), people must confine themselves again”, commented Nobuhiko Kuramochi of Mizuho Securities, quoted by the Bloomberg agency.

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The coronavirus has killed more than 5.16 million people worldwide since the end of 2019, but the WHO estimates that the toll from the pandemic could be two to three times higher.

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