France suspends travel from 7 African countries over Covid variant

Following the emergence of a new Covid variant, France has suspended travel from seven African countries for a minimum of 48 hours.

Travellers from seven different southern African countries are temporarily barred from entering France.
Travellers from seven different southern African countries are temporarily barred from entering France. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

The B.1.1.529 Covid strain, first detected in South Africa, has been described as a “variant of great concern,” by the virologists who first detected it. 

“We can see that it has the potential to spread very quickly,” said Tulio de Oliviera, director of the country’s KRISP lab, during a press conference. 

In response to the discovery, France has imposed a temporary travel ban on seven southern  African countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. The ban will remain in place for a minimum of 48 hours and applies to all travellers, whatever their vaccination status or nationality. 

“Although no cases [of B.1.1.529 infection] have been detected on French territory, the principle of maximum caution must apply,” notes a communiqué from the French Prime Minister’s office. 

‘People who travelled from one of these countries within the last 14 days are invited to signal this to the authorities and do an RT-PCR test as soon as possible,’ it continued. 

The French government has called on travellers to suspend any potential travel plans to southern Africa. 

READ ALSO Will travel to and from France be open this Christmas?

New variants are more likely to emerge in places where vaccination coverage remains low – by late October, less than 6 percent of Africa’s population had been vaccinated by Covid-19. That is why the World Health Organisation’s long-standing position is that developed countries such as France should focus on distributing vaccines to the rest of the world rather than vaccinating low-risk groups such as children. 

Tulio de Oliveira has called on global financial institutions and billionaires to provide assistance to Africa and South Africa to extinguish the new variant. 

“By protecting its poor and oppressed population we will protect the world,” he tweeted

In August, France said it would deliver 10 million vaccines to the African Union within three months. 

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Drought-hit Mont Blanc shuts shelters to dissuade hikers

Authorities in the French Alps said Friday they had closed down two popular mountain shelters used by Mont Blanc climbers because of potentially deadly drought-related rockfalls.

Drought-hit Mont Blanc shuts shelters to dissuade hikers

In a year marked by drought and heatwaves, rockfalls and gaping crevices have made access to the top of Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, even more difficult and perilous.

The mayor’s office in the Mont Blanc village of Saint-Gervais, said climbers were in “mortal danger” from rocks and shards coming loose because of dry weather and dropping from a height.

“All day long, we still see climbers going on the mountain range, all the time, as if this was Disneyland or the Parc Asterix,” said Saint-Gervais mayor Jean-Marc Peillex, in reference to two popular theme parks near Paris.

Hikers had been advised since last month to stay away because of the danger, but “they just don’t give a damn,” he told AFP.

READ MORE: ‘To pay funeral costs’ – Why Mont Blanc mayor wants to charge climbers

The closure of the two mountain shelters — Gouter with 120 overnight spots and Tete Rousse with 74, as well as a base camp accommodating up to 50 people — was to “show clearly that there is no accommodation available”.

The authorities had warned for weeks that falling rocks were a danger, he said, adding that crossing the Gouter mountain corridor represented “a mortal danger”, he said.

Nevertheless, 79 people stayed at the Gouter shelter Thursday night, he said.

The shelters will remain shut until normal weather conditions return, the mayor said, probably not before early September.

Peillex had warned Wednesday that Saint-Gervais would require a deposit of €15,000 from each hiker, saying the sum represented the average cost of a rescue operation and a funeral.

He was, however, advised that French law offers no basis for such a move.

A lack of snow during the winter has laid bare vast areas of greyish glacier — yellowish where sand dust from the Sahara has accumulated — riven with fractures on the Mont Blanc.

The heat did the rest, causing the fragile snow bridges to melt that make it possible to cross the crevasses, as well as leading to landslides.

Following several heatwaves, France is in the grip of severe drought, blamed by scientists on climate change.

On Friday, 100 municipalities across the country were without drinking water, Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said.

Calling the drought “historic”, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called a crisis meeting Friday to seek solutions.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is amplifying extreme weather — including the heatwaves, droughts and floods seen in several parts of the planet in recent weeks — and say these events will become more frequent and more intense.

The international community has agreed that climate change poses an existential threat to human systems and the natural world.