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Sunday, January 23, 2022

New COVID-19 variant: Africa CDC flays countries imposing travel bans

Lara Adejoro

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has frowned against the imposition of a travel ban on people travelling from countries reporting the new B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant.

The Africa CDC says imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome.

It says public health and social measures should be prioritised rather than imposing a travel ban on countries reporting the variant.

Meanwhile, Britain has prohibited all flights from South Africa and its neighbours -Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa on Thursday announced the detection of a new variant of the SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, following genomic sequencing. This variant is currently labelled as lineage B.1.1.529.

As of Thursday, the B.1.1.529 variant had been detected in 77 samples collected between 12-20 November from Gauteng province in South Africa, 4 samples from Botswana, and 1 sample in Hong Kong.

The Africa CDC stated in a press statement that the emergence of this new variant coincides with a sudden increase in cases in the Gauteng province over recent days and is accordingly being closely monitored by the health authorities in South Africa.

It noted that the B.1.1.529 variant displays multiple mutations across the virus genome, including more than 30 in the region which encodes the spike protein responsible for virus entry into host cells.

“Some of the mutations have been detected in previous variants, such as Alpha and Delta, and have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion.

“Many of the other identified mutations are not yet well characterised and have not been identified in other currently circulating variants. 

“More investigations are underway to determine the possible impact of these mutations on the capacity of the virus to transmit more efficiently, to impact vaccine effectiveness and evade the immune response, and/or to cause more severe or milder disease,” it said.

Africa CDC recommends the implementation of public health and social measures, including mask-wearing, physical distancing, and handwashing, as crucial to limit the transmission of COVID-19 regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.

“Africa CDC strongly discourages the imposition of a travel ban for people originating from countries that have reported this variant. 

“In fact, over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome. Rather implementing PHSM should be prioritised.

“COVID-19 vaccines remain a key tool to prevent severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 infection.

“National health authorities should reinforce PHSM implementation and accelerate immunisation of their populations, prioritizing high-risk groups, ahead of upcoming new waves of COVID-19 infections. 

“Public health laboratories and researchers should closely monitor the rate of S gene dropout results. Timely genomic surveillance should be reinforced through coordination with national and regional pathogen genomics laboratories. The Africa CDC, through the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative, will support this coordination at the continental level.

“Member States should notify Africa CDC immediately if they identify any new SARS-CoV-2 variant,” it said.

The health agency, however, said it will continue to monitor the situation and provide further guidance to the Member States and the public as more information becomes available about the B.1.1.529 variant.

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