New Covid-19 variant sparks global travel restrictions: Live updates - CNN

1 month ago 45
1 hr 14 min ago

New Covid-19 variant prompts these countries to impose travel restrictions

Passengers walk with their luggage at Frankfurt airport. After the discovery of a new virus variant, the German government wants to restrict air travel with South Africa on 26th November 2021Passengers walk with their luggage at Frankfurt airport. After the discovery of a new virus variant, the German government wants to restrict air travel with South Africa on 26th November 2021 (Boris Roessler/Getty Images)

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa prompted multiple countries to impose travel restrictions on at least six African nations.

Currently known as B.1.1.529, the newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

These are the countries that have announced restrictions so far:

ItalyAustriaFranceJapanThe United KingdomSingaporeThe NetherlandsMaltaMalaysiaMoroccoPhilippines

While only dozens of cases of the new strain have been identified so far, they have been detected in South Africa, Botswana and in a traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa.

The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the UK announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27.

Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who've entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks.

Singapore has opted to ban all non-residents from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from entering, while nationals and permanent residents returning from any of these countries will be required to serve a 10-day stay home notice (SHN). Malaysia has also taken similar steps.

Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a "virus variant area" from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.

The Philippines has suspended inbound flights effective immediately from South Africa and six other countries due to concerns over the new variant, according to the presidential office. Travelers, including Filipino nationals, coming from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique have been banned until Dec. 15.

David McKenzie reports:

2 hr 3 min ago

South Africa expresses concern over "rushed' travel restrictions due to new Covid-19 variant

Members of a cabin crew walk through International Arrivals, at London's Heathrow Airport, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.Members of a cabin crew walk through International Arrivals, at London's Heathrow Airport, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.  (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

The South African government issued a statement describing the United Kingdom's decision to ban travel from the country as "rushed," and expressed concern about the damage it would cause to "both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries."

The UK temporarily suspended flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini following the discovery of an aggressive mutation of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa.

The country's decision was the first among a cascade of closures that began late Thursday. Many European and Asian nations followed suit, echoing previous emergency responses that triggered a global freeze on travel.

1 hr 44 min ago

Germany’s acting health minister: Covid-19 situation “more serious than at any other time in the pandemic”

From Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Health Minister Jens Spahn makes a statement during a press conference about the current pandemic situation in the country in Berlin, Germany on November 26th, 2021.German Health Minister Jens Spahn makes a statement during a press conference about the current pandemic situation in the country in Berlin, Germany on November 26th, 2021. (Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

As worries over the B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant lead to travel restrictions imposed on some African countries, other nations in central Europe have seen Covid-19 cases soar as they issue lockdowns and dire warnings.

Germany's acting Health Minister Jens Spahn said "wake-up calls [have] not reached everyone in Germany” at a health press conference in Berlin, warning that “contact restrictions must be reduced.”

Spahn urged that “if decisive action is not taken now, there will be drastic measures in the coming weeks.” 

Spahn said Germany must do more to tackle record levels of infections. Last week, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country was limiting public access for the unvaccinated.

''We need a massive reduction in contacts between people — immediately”, the country’s head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler reiterated at the same press conference. “The number of patients in ICUs is rising rapidly.”

Wieler said that in some Covid-19 hotspot areas, patient transfers to others have started as ICUs are overfilled.

Germany on Friday broke the record of daily Covid-19 infections with 76,414 new cases in a single day. On Tuesday, Germany recorded 75,961 Covid-19 cases.

More than 100,000 people have died as a result of coronavirus in Germany, according to RKI data. The country reported 357 new deaths related to Covid-19 from Thursday to Friday. 

According to the RKI, the country's seven-day incidence rate has also hit new record levels, rising to 438.2 cases per 100,000 people. The new total for Covid-19 cases in Germany is now 5,650,170.

Germany's health experts say one reason for the spike is the country's full vaccination rate, which at just under 68% is one of the lowest in western Europe. Around 32% have no protection against the virus, according to the RKI.

Other countries take action: Austria reimposed a national lockdown. Slovakia is locked down until December 9 and a state of emergency will last for 90 days. The Netherlands has returned to partial lockdown, and Hungary and the Czech Republic are among four new additions to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's highest-risk travel category.

-Amy Cassidy and Maureen O'Hare contributed to this report.

2 hr 6 min ago

Israel announces sweeping travel restrictions following discovery of new Covid-19 variant

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Amir Tal in Jerusalem 

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced sweeping travel restrictions for most of Africa after one case of the new Covid-19 variant was confirmed in the country.

The new B.1.1.529 variant was found overnight in a person returning from Malawi.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv Friday afternoon, along with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and senior health officials, Bennett said there were three further suspected cases in Israel that awaited confirmation pending final test results. He said he expected more cases to come to light in the coming days.

“The new variant is concerning and has the potential to be very dangerous. We are raising a red flag. We understand that we are on the verge of a state of emergency,” he said in remarks in English, toward the end of a conference otherwise conducted in Hebrew. 

The prime minister said that all African countries, other than those in the north of the continent, were being added to a new red list. Mauritius, the Seychelles and Madagascar would also be added to the list. 

People from these countries will not be allowed to enter Israel. Even Israelis who have received three doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will need to isolate at a designated hotel on returning from these countries until they have twice tested negative in a PCR test. 

Anybody recently returned from an African country (other than those in the north) will be called for a PCR test and instructed to remain in home isolation until the result of the test is known, Bennett said.

Israelis are not banned from traveling to a "red" country, but they need special permission from a government committee to make the journey.

The prime minister said Israel’s government had recently carried out a national drill to prepare for the emergence of a new variant and that the lessons learned — which he described as the need “to act fast, early, hard and strong” — were being put into practice.

Even if it turns out in a couple of weeks that B.1.1.529 does not sweep across the world, Bennett said it made sense to prepare now for the possibility that it might.

2 hr 18 min ago

New Covid-19 variant rattles global markets

From CNN's Laura He and Mark Thompson

A photographer takes pictures of an electronic quotation board displaying the Nikkei 225 index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on November 26, 2021.A photographer takes pictures of an electronic quotation board displaying the Nikkei 225 index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images) 

Dow futures plunged and oil fell more than 6% on Friday as the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant rattled global markets.

Asian stocks led the way, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropping 2.7%, while Japan's Nikkei 225 was down 2.5%. European markets sold off heavily, with major indexes including the FTSE100, France's CAC40 and Germany's DAX all down by between 2.5% and 3%.

US markets were slammed before the start of Friday's shortened trading session. Dow futures fell more than 800 points, or about 2.3%, at 6.45 a.m. ET. Futures for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were down around 1.8% and 1% respectively.

US oil sank 6.8% to around $73 a barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 6% to around $77.

South Africa's health minister said Thursday that a new coronavirus variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country. It has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

The new strain has already prompted the UK government to ban flights from six African countries. Some EU countries are taking similar measures. UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said the variant "may be more transmissible" than the Delta strain and that "the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective."

Travel and airline stocks are among the biggest fallers Friday.

Rob North and Nadine Schmidt contributed to this article.

2 hr 35 min ago

Fauci: There is no current indication that the new coronavirus variant is in the US 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is no indication that the new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa is currently in the US.

A discussion with South African scientists later today was just arranged to get all the facts, he added.

“It’s something that has emerged in South Africa and seems to be spreading at a reasonably rapid rate, in the sense of when they do test positivity, they’re seeing that it’s a bit more widespread in South Africa than was originally felt a couple of days ago,” he said. “It’s in a fluid motion. We’re finding more about it. And literally, it’s something that in real time we’re learning more and more about," he told CNN Friday.

Fauci said they are trying to get the precise molecular makeup of the variant so that it can be tested – something which will take a bit of time to put the materials together for. The US is “in very active communication” with colleagues in South Africa, he added.

The US will also try to determine if its vaccines provide protection against this variant, Fauci said.

“You need to get that particular sequence of the virus, put it in a form in the lab where you can actually test the different antibodies, so you can have a prediction that it might evade, or you can actually prove it,” he said.

That will also determine the US response to the variant and the countries it is currently present in, he added.

"There's always the possibility of doing what the UK has done, namely blocking travel from South Africa and other countries," he told CNN. "You're prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there's basis for doing that."

Watch:

1 hr 43 min ago

UK bans flights from 6 African countries over new Covid-19 variant

From CNN's David McKenzie and Ghazi Balkiz

After South Africa's health minister announced the discovery of a new coronavirus strain on Thursday, UK officials announced that six African countries will be added to England's travel "red list."

UK's Health Minister Sajid Javid said flights to the UK from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list – meaning UK residents and British and Irish nationals arriving home from those points of departure must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

"UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we're taking precautions now," Javid said, adding the variant identified in South Africa "may be more transmissible" than the Delta strain and that "the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective."

This comes after the UK Health Security Agency flagged concern over the new Covid-19 strain.

Javid added the UK "hasn't detected any of this new variant" in the country so far.

On Friday, South African officials will brief the World Health Organization, which has classified B.1.1.529 as a "variant under monitoring."

South Africa, like much of the region, has suffered through three significant Covid-19 waves since the pandemic's start. While the number of new infections across the country is now still relatively low and positivity levels are under 5%, public health officials have already predicted a fourth wave because of a slow vaccine uptake.

7 min ago

A new Covid-19 variant is spreading in South Africa. Here's what we know.

David McKenzie and Ghazi Balkiz

Scientists work on the COVID-19 at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said there was an unusual constellation of mutations and that it was very different to other variants that have circulated. In a media briefing Prof de Oliveira said there were 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike proteinScientists work on the COVID-19 at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said there was an unusual constellation of mutations and that it was very different to other variants that have circulated. In a media briefing Prof de Oliveira said there were 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein (Eyepress/Reuters)

South Africa's health minister announced Thursday the discovery of a new coronavirus variant that appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.

"Initially, it looked like some cluster outbreaks, but from yesterday, the indication came from our scientists from the Network of Genomic Surveillance that they were observing a new variant," Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said, stressing that it is currently unclear where the variant – currently dubbed B.1.1.529 – first emerged.

It has so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana and in a traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa, Phaahla added.

During a news briefing, genomic scientists said the variant has an unusually high number of mutations, with more than 30 in the key spike protein – the structure the virus uses to get into the cells they attack.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said the variant has "many more mutations than we have expected," adding it is "spreading very fast and we expect to see pressure in the health system in the next few days and weeks."

He advised the public to "try to avoid super spreading events."

Officials also expressed concern that the mutation could result in immune evasion and enhanced transmissibility of the virus, but added it is too early to tell what kind of impact the mutations will have on vaccine efficacy. More studies also need to be conducted to understand the clinical severity of the variant compared to previous variants, officials said.

"The full significance of this variant remains uncertain and the best tool we have is still the vaccines," De Oliveira said. He added that lab studies still need to be carried out to test vaccine and antibody evasion.

CNN's Duarte Mendonca contributed to this report.

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