New virus variant appears in Africa, causing worldwide concern



The discovery of a new coronavirus variant chilled much of the world on Friday as countries raced to halt air travel, markets plummeted and scientists held emergency meetings. level to weigh the exact risks that are largely unknown.

Health experts, including the World Health Organization, have warned of any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa is better understood. But a world is worrying about the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and sparked a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people globally.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers the latest variant could be more contagious than the delta variant and make the vaccine less effective.

“We have to move quickly and as soon as possible,” Javid said.

Several countries have stopped air travel from southern Africa, and stocks have fallen in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 800 points at the start of trading. Oil prices fell 7%.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that could cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn. the nations.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights “should be halted until we fully understand the danger posed by this new variant and travelers returning from the region should respect strict quarantine rules”.

She emphasized extreme caution, warning that “mutation could lead to the emergence and spread of more related variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months.

Belgium becomes the first European Union country to announce a case of this variant. It concerns a person from a foreign country.

“It was a questionable variation. We don’t know if it’s a very dangerous variant,” said Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.

Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, announced on Friday that it had also detected its first case of the new variant in a traveler returning from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases have been placed in quarantine. Israel said all three had been vaccinated, but officials were looking into the exact vaccination status of the travelers.

After a 10-hour overnight trip, passengers on flight KLM 598 from Capetown, South Africa, to Amsterdam were held at the edge of the runway Friday morning at Schiphol airport for four hours pending special checks. for the new variant. Passengers on the flight from Johannesburg are also being isolated and tested.

“It’s ridiculous. If we hadn’t caught the dreaded bug before, we’re catching it now,” said passenger Francesca de’ Medici, a Rome-based art consultant, on flight, said.

Some experts say the appearance of this variant illustrates how rich countries hoarding vaccines risk prolonging the pandemic.

Fewer than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable people have yet to receive a single dose. Those conditions can speed up the spread of the virus, creating more opportunities for the virus to develop into a dangerous variant.

Michael Head, a senior researcher in global health at the UK’s University of Southampton, said: “This is one of the consequences of inequity in vaccine deployment and why it’s up to countries to Getting richer buying surplus vaccines is bound to affect all of us at some point. . He urged the Group of 20 leaders to “go beyond vague promises and really deliver on their commitments to share the dose.”

The new variant immediately raised fears of pandemic-related economic chaos.

“Investors are likely to ask questions first and questions later until more is known,” said Jeffrey Halley of forex broker Oanda.

Oil prices plunged, with US crude falling 6.7% at $73.22 a barrel and international Brent falling 5.6% at $77.64, both unusually large moves in one day. During the initial pandemic outbreak in 2020, oil prices plunged as travel restrictions reduced demand for fuel.

Shares of airlines fell sharply, with Lufthansa down 12.4%, IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, down 14.4%, Air France-KLM down 8.9% and EasyJet down 10.9 %.

Speaking ahead of the EU announcement, Dr Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO, warned of “knee-to-knee reactions”.

“We have seen in the past, minutes have any kind of mention of any kind of variation and people are closing borders and restricting travel. Ryan said.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to and is not recommending any travel bans for countries reporting the new variant. It said past experience has shown that such travel bans have “failed to produce a meaningful outcome”.

The UK banned flights from South Africa and five other South African countries at noon on Friday and announced that anyone new to those countries will be required to take a coronavirus test.

Germany said its flight ban could be enacted as soon as Friday night. Spahn said flights returning from South Africa would only be able to bring home German nationals and travelers would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.

Germany has seen a record number of daily cases in recent days and on Thursday passed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.

The Italian Ministry of Health has announced measures barring entry to anyone who has been in seven South African countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – in the past 14 days. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have planned similar measures.

The Japanese government has announced that Japanese nationals from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine in government-specific rooms for 10 days and take a COVID-19 test on Tuesdays, Sixth, and Tenths. Japan has not yet opened its doors to foreign nationals.

The South African government said the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the country “appears to have been rushed”, citing the WHO has not yet outlined next steps.

Coronaviruses evolve as it spreads, and many new variants, including those with potential mutation risk, often die off. Scientists watch for possible changes that could be more contagious or dangerous, but categorizing the hazards correctly takes time.

The WHO technical working group will meet on Friday to evaluate the new variant – currently identified as B.1.1.529 – and possibly decide whether to name it from the Greek alphabet. It said coronavirus infections rose 11% over the past week in Europe, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise.

WHO’s Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see 700,000 more deaths by spring.


Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels, Colleen Barry in Milan, Pan Pylas in London, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Mike Corder in The Hague, Dave McHugh in Frankfurt, Carley Petesch in Dakar, Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report. New virus variant appears in Africa, causing worldwide concern

Aila Slisco

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