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Countries restrict travel from southern Africa over COVID variant
Countries introduce restrictions on travellers from southern Africa amid concerns over a new variant of the coronavirus.
Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel and Singapore, have imposed travel restrictions after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.
Scientists have expressed concerns that the new strain – identified as B.1.1.529 – could be more resistant to vaccines and could spread more easily.
The Israeli health ministry said on Friday it had 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.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against imposing new travel restrictions.
“WHO recommends that countries continued to apply a risk-based and a scientific approach when implementing travel measures … implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The health agency said that it will take a few weeks to determine exactly how transmissible the new variant is.
“Researchers are working to understand more about the mutations and what they potentially mean for how transmissible or virulent this variant is,” Lindmeier said, as WHO experts began a virtual meeting to determine whether B.1.1.529 should be classified as a variant of interest or of concern.
BioNTech assessing vaccine against new strain
Biotech company BioNTech said on Friday it was studying how well the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Pfizer protects against the new variant.