Germany to ban travel from South Africa over new Covid variant

Simon's Town in South Africa
The bay of Simon's Town, South Africa. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christian Selz
Germany will ban most travel from South Africa to halt the spread of a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations, acting Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.

The new rules, starting Friday night, will affect travellers from South Africa and “probably neighbouring nations”, Spahn said.

After this date, only German nationals and people with residence rights will be allowed entry to Germany after visiting South Africa.

They must quarantine 14 days upon arrival back in Germany even if vaccinated.

“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” Spahn said.

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The news comes after researchers announced the discovery of a worrying new Covid variant in the country that is believed to have around ten mutations. 

Not much is known about the new variant – which is still called B.1.1.529 as it hasn’t yet been given a Greek title by the World Health Organisation.

However, experts say that the extraordinarily high number of mutations suggest that it is highly infectious and particularly taxing on human immune systems. 

For comparison, the highly contagious Delta variant had two mutations, while Beta had three. 

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla described the variant as “seriously worrying” and likely behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases in South Africa in previous days.

He said it had been striking how sharply the infection figures had risen in recent days – after months with very few positive tests.

There are also concerns that B.1.1.529 could be resistant to the Covid vaccines that have been developed so far, though scientists haven’t been able to determine this yet. 

“This newly discovered variant worries us, so we are taking proactive and early action here,” said Spahn. 

Tough restrictions

In a sign of the growing alarm around the new ‘supervariant’, the European Union separately called on states to prohibit travel from countries in southern Africa.

The EU’s executive “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,” EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted Friday.

When South Africa is bumped onto the ‘virus list’ this weekend, it will mark the second travel ban Germany has imposed on the country within a year.

South Africa was initially placed on the Robert Koch Institute’s virus variant list on January 30th over the discovery of the Beta variant, effectively banning all travel to and from the country for non-German citizens.

The move prompted a heartfelt campaign by a South African group comprised of workers, students and cross-border couples, who argued that their lives had come to a standstill during the course of the six-month block on travel.

It was kept in place for months despite the growing prevalence of Delta and diminishing traces of Beta in the country, but was eventually lifted in August. 

READ ALSO: Germany lifts ban on travel from South Africa, offering relief to students and cross-border couples


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