New Covid-19 Variant Triggers Wave of Travel Restrictions

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Healthcare workers sit at the Zwartkopps Raceway drive-thru vaccination site amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Centurion, near Pretoria, South Africa.

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AFP via Getty Images

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European and Asian governments were scrambling on Friday to impose new travel restrictions on concerns that a heavily mutated coronavirus strain, first identified in Botswana, may prove to be vaccine-resistant and possibly spread faster than previous variants.

The strain, called B.1.1.1.529, is “the” most worrying That’s what we’ve seen,” according to Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor for the UK Health and Safety Agency. It has a reproduction number of 2, which means that each sick person infects an average of two others.

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The variant’s spike protein, through which the virus attacks human cells, is different from a coronavirus first detected in 2019 in Wuhan, China, with more than 30 mutations.

UK, Germany, Italy and Singapore Friday imposed restrictions on entry from South Africa and neighboring African states, and the European Commission is “proposing to activate” member statesemergency brake“Permission to ban air travel from the region.

due to the World Health Organization meet friday To decide whether to classify the new version as “of interest” or, more seriously, “of concern”.

About 100 sequences of the variant have been reported, and preliminary analysis suggests it has a “large number of mutations”, requiring further study, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmayer.

As of Thursday, a hundred cases of the variant had been officially identified in South Africa, but a South African scientist said 90% of cases in the Gauteng region around Johannesburg are attributable to the new strain.

Officials in Hong Kong and Israel said they had already identified cases of the new variant in travelers traveling to South Africa.

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