Science

Covid-19: in the face of the new variant, Europe and France are gaining ground

The so-called B.1.1.529 is not welcome in Europe. Its “supervariant” profile – it would be a carrier according to the first analyzes of some thirty mutations of its Spike protein, which suggests resistance to vaccines against Covid-19 – worries the health authorities of the continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for caution, the analysis of this new strain of Covid-19 will take time. It also discourages the adoption of travel restriction measures.

Too late or too late. Rapidly spreading experiences with the dangerous Alpha variants last winter and Delta in the spring are pushing states to act quickly. The UK was the first to ban flights from South Africa and five other neighboring countries as of noon on Friday.

The European Commission also proposed on Friday to suspend flights from southern Africa, where it was first detected in early November. “The situation is changing very quickly. We want to make sure we do our best to stop the spread of this variant,” a Commission spokesperson told AFP. Some of its member countries, including France, have already taken the initiative.

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France, Holland, Germany, Italy …

France followed in the UK’s footsteps on Friday by pronouncing an immediate suspension of arrivals from seven southern African countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. “People who have traveled in the last fourteen days to one of these countries are invited to inform the authorities and carry out an RT-PCR screening test as soon as possible,” added the Prime Minister’s office in Matignon.

The Netherlands has also banned flights from five southern African countries. In Germany, only German citizens will be able to return from South Africa from Friday evening, and on the condition of respecting a fourteen-day quarantine, even if they are vaccinated, outgoing German Health Minister Jens announced. Spahn. “The last thing we need now is the introduction of a new variant that is causing even more problems,” he said.

Italy finally also banned its territory this Friday to anyone who has remained in southern Africa “during the last 14 days.”

Globally, in Asia, Singapore announced a ban similar to the one in effect on Sunday in the UK, except for its citizens and residents. Japan is also very widespread. People arriving from southern Africa on or after Saturday will be subject to a ten-day quarantine at a location chosen by the government. They will have to undergo a Covid test upon arrival in Japan, and another three during this quarantine. Drastic.

A prejudice for South Africa

In reaction to London’s only restriction at first, the South African government denounced a “hasty” decision. “Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

Fears related to this new variant, detected at a time when health restrictions are causing social tensions and distrust of vaccination persists, have caused oil prices to fall and caused sharp falls in world stock markets. Tokyo lost 2.53% at the close and Frankfurt and London more than 3% at the open. The flagship CAC 40 index of the Paris Stock Exchange fell 3.79% on Friday morning.

So far, only a handful of cases have been officially detected in South Africa, Botswana, but also Hong Kong and Israel, among travelers from the African continent.

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However, its potential for spread is “very fast,” warned virologist Tulio de Oliveira at a press conference with the South African Ministry of Health on Thursday. His team at the KRISP research institute, backed by the University of Kwazulu-Natal, had already discovered the highly contagious Beta variant last year.

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France, Neuilly sur Seine, November 18, 2021, portrait of Alain Madelin, French politician.  He was minister three times between 1986 and 1995 and ran under the label of Liberal Democracy in the 2002 presidential elections.By Alain Madelin

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Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of Monday Note.Frédéric Filloux

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