A so-called “emergency brake” may soon be applied in the fight against the coronavirus as the EU proposes a Southern Africa travel ban because of a new variant that has developed there.
The new strain of the virus has a different type of spike protein than those seen in other known coronavirus strains and therefore may be less susceptible to the vaccine since the inoculations are designed to target spike proteins.
The European Union’s executive body “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region,” EU chief Ursula von Der Leyen stated on Twitter.
Southern Africa travel ban
The new mutation, known as the B.1.1.529 variant, is believed to be the most evolved strain since the pandemic began in late 2019.
B.1.1.529 had mutated a total of 32 times when it was first discovered in Botswana, a landlocked country in southern Africa. The strain has since been found in neighboring South Africa, with one case in a traveler returning home to Hong Kong after visiting the continent. There are a total of 10 cases that have been confirmed to be the B.1.1.529 strain.
Germany and Italy joined Britain on Friday in banning most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to prevent the spread of the new variant with its large number of mutations.
The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021
The new travel rules laid down by Germany, which will come into effect on Friday night, will be targeted on South Africa and “probably neighboring nations”, Jens Spahn, the German Minister of Health Jens stated; as of tonight, only German nationals will be allowed entry to Germany if they originate from these areas.
In addition, these travelers, once admitted back into Germany, must quarantine for 14 days — even if they are fully vaccinated.
“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” Spahn stated. Like almost all other European nations, Germany finds itself in the midst of a tremendous surge which amounts to a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Southern Africa travel ban comes after Great Britain bans flights
B.1.1.529’s many mutations have led scientists to believe that the strain could potentially resist the vaccine and evade antibodies.
Although the strain’s spread has been limited, experts around the world are sounding the alarm over the sheer number of mutations in the variant’s spike protein: “the incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern,” said virologist Dr. Tom Peacock.
Peacock later tweeted that it “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile,” but that this intense evolution may not necessarily mean that the strain is highly transmissible, and it could just amount to an “odd cluster.”
Officials from the Italian government announced on Friday that their country will also ban entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the last two weeks.
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza stated that while scientists were still studying the troubling new variant, “we will follow the path of maximum caution.”
Great Britain was the first nation to ban all flights from South Africa neighboring nations would be prohibited starting 1200 GMT on Friday.
Meanwhile, South Africa condemned its decision, with its Foreign Ministry issuing a statement that said “Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.”
Later today the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the fast-spreading and mutating new strain found in South Africa and Botswana, according to a report from the Financial Times.
The Daily Mail reports that British scientists state that the mutations indicate its high transmissibility and resistance to vaccines, since the strain has more changes in the spike protein than any other variants currently known.
The South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases officially confirmed that there have been 22 cases of the new strain diagnosed to date. Less than 30% of South Africans have had Covid-19 inoculations.
According to CBS News, scientists there are attempting to reverse-engineer the Moderna vaccine since they state they have not received enough of the vaccines from abroad to inoculate as many people as they had hoped.