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Extra nations shut borders to South Africa over new Covid variant fears

Japan’s government announced on Friday (26 November) that it would tighten border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries after the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19, Reuters reports.

The announcement comes hours after the UK government placed South Africa and five other countries onto its much-maligned travel ‘red list’ following the emergence of the new variant in Southern Africa.

UK health Secretary Sajid Javid said that from noon on Friday (12h00 GMT, 26 November), flights to and from the countries will be temporarily banned. Any UK nationals arriving from the specified countries will have to quarantine.

Other countries are likely to follow the UK’s example as the variant, designated as B.1.1.529 by the WHO, has sparked concerns about its transmissibility, severity and potential vaccine resistance.

Singapore and Israel have already announced new travel restrictions, while India has issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other “at-risk” countries amidst concerns over the variant.

Germany has also halted flights to the country, while the European Union will propose a halt on air travel from southern Africa, Bloomberg reported.

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Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, have adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach, with officials still assessing the threat posed by the variant.

Scientists are still unclear on how effective existing vaccines will be against the new variant, which displays mutations that might resist neutralization.

The variant shares similarities with the Lambda and Beta variants, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

“All these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Lessells said.

A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 26 November, South Africa has 78 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 27 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests.

Read: UK bans travel to South Africa over new Covid variant

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