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.
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“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.
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.