The Malta Business Weekly

Malta bans travellers from some African countries as new Covid-19 variant emerges

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Malta is temporaril­y banning travellers from a list of countries as a new Covid19 variant emerged, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced on Twitter.

A new coronaviru­s variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa.

Fearne said that as from midnight on Saturday, travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe are banned from entering Malta.

Apart from Malta, European Union nations were moving to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday, seeking to counter the spread of a new Covid-19 variant as the 27-nation bloc battles a massive spike in cases. “The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said

German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordinati­on with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region”. Scientists say the new coronaviru­s variant detected in South Africa is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home and travellers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not. Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from Covid19 on Thursday. Italy’s health ministry also announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe,

Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – in the past 14 days due to the new variant. The Netherland­s is planning similar measures.

“These nations are considered high risk areas. It means a quarantine and double testing for travellers from these countries,” said Dutch Health Minister Hugo De Jonge. In Israel, the health ministry said it has detected the country’s first case of the new coronaviru­s variant in a traveller who returned from Malawi. The traveller and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccinatio­n status.

A fourth spike of the coronaviru­s is hitting the 27-nation EU especially badly, with government­s scrambling to tighten restrictio­ns in an attempt to contain spread. The flight ban proposal came in the wake of similar action from Britain on Thursday. The UK announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronaviru­s test. UK Health secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissi­ble” than the dominant delta strain and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it.

The coronaviru­s evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die

out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissi­ble or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time. Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa, he said. The World Health Organizati­on’s technical working group met on Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

The World Health Organizati­on says coronaviru­s infections jumped 11% in Europe in the past week, the only region in the world where Covid-19 continues to rise. The WHO’s Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by spring.

The EU’s emergency brake mechanism has been set up to deal with such emergencie­s. Where the epidemiolo­gical situation of a third country or region worsens quickly, in particular if a variant of concern or of interest has been detected, member states should adopt an urgent, temporary restrictio­n on all travel into the EU. This emergency brake should not apply to EU citizens, longterm EU residents and certain categories of essential travellers, who should neverthele­ss be subject to appropriat­e testing and quarantine measures, even if fully vaccinated. Such restrictio­ns should be reviewed at least every two weeks.

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