On Friday, European Union countries announced plans to halt air travel to and from southern Africa in order to combat the spread of a new COVID-19 type as the 27-nation bloc confronts a significant increase in infections.
“The last thing we need is to introduce a new version that would exacerbate existing issues,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn stated.
“I propose, in close consultation with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to prohibit air travel from the southern African region,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
The novel coronavirus strain discovered in South Africa is causing alarm among scientists due to its high number of mutations and quick spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous region, according to scientists.
According to Germany, von der Leyen’s suggestion might be implemented as early as Friday night. According to Spahn, airlines returning from South Africa will only be permitted to bring German nationals home, and all travelers, whether vaccinated or not, would be required to enter quarantine for 14 days.
In recent days, Germany has witnessed fresh daily case counts set records, and on Thursday, the country exceeded the 100,000-death threshold from COVID-19.
Due to the new variation, Italy’s health ministry has issued steps to prevent anybody from entering the country who has spent the previous 14 days in any of the seven southern African countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini.
Similar restrictions are being considered in the Netherlands.
“These countries are regarded as high-risk locations. Travelers from these countries would be quarantined and tested twice, according to Dutch Health Minister Hugo De Jonge.
In Israel, the health ministry said that a visitor returning from Malawi had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus strain. The tourist, as well as two other probable cases, have been isolated. It stated that all three had been vaccinated, but that it is still investigating their specific vaccination status.
A fourth coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc on the EU’s 27 member states, with policymakers scurrying to tighten restrictions in an attempt to stem the spread. The proposed flying restriction follows similar steps taken by the United Kingdom on Thursday.
The United Kingdom declared that flights from South Africa and five other southern African nations would be prohibited beginning at noon on Friday, and that everyone who had just arrived from those countries would be required to take a coronavirus test.
There are worries that the new variety “may be more transmissible” than the prevailing delta strain, and that “the vaccinations that we now have may be less effective” against it, according to UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
As the coronavirus spreads, many new varieties, including ones with potentially dangerous mutations, die off. Scientists keep an eye out for alterations that might make the virus more transmissible or fatal, but determining whether new varieties will have an impact on public health can take a long time.
The new variety, now classified as B.1.1.529, has also been observed in tourists from South Africa in Botswana and Hong Kong, he added.
The World Health Organization’s technical working committee will meet on Friday to analyze the new variety and determine if it should be given a Greek alphabet name.
According to the World Health Organization, coronavirus infections in Europe increased by 11% in the last week, making it the only region in the world where COVID-19 is still on the rise. Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, warned that without immediate action, the region might witness another 700,000 fatalities by spring.
To deal with such circumstances, the EU has established an emergency brake system.
When a third country’s or region’s epidemiological condition rapidly deteriorates, particularly when a variety of concern or interest is discovered, member states should impose an immediate, temporary ban on all travel into the EU. This emergency brake should not apply to EU nationals, long-term EU residents, or certain types of important travelers, who, even if fully vaccinated, should be subjected to proper testing and quarantine measures.
Such limits should be evaluated every two weeks at the very least.