South African scientists are scrambling to determine how quickly a newly discovered version of the coronavirus can spread and whether it is resistant to vaccines. New tensions have prompted Britain to reimpose flight restrictions on six southern African countries, which could deal another heavy blow to their economies.
Coronavirus cases are increasing once again in South Africa.
Amid the spike, several mutations of a new variant called B1.1.
This has raised concerns that it could compete with the earlier flagship Delta variant and trigger another wave of the pandemic.
Dr. Michelle Gromm is with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases of South Africa.
“There’s a possibility that it may be more permeable and that there’s potential immunity to escape, but we don’t know yet,” Groom said. “We’re busy doing some lab tests, obviously, so we can see how, you know, this new version reacts to the serum of people who have already been infected, as well as those who have been vaccinated. , which will give us a better idea of how to avoid potential immunity.”
Uncertainty has prompted travel restrictions.
Britain today added six African countries to its so-called red list, requiring quarantines for incoming passengers and temporarily banning flights.
The European Union is also considering stopping air travel from southern Africa.
The South African government has called the decisions “hasty” and raised concerns about the impact on business.
David Frost, CEO of South Africa’s Inbound Tourism Association, says the impact on the region would be devastating.
“We were taken off the red list in October and desperately needed. We’ve been locked up for more than 18 months,” Frost said. “You know, the industry is really on its knees. The impact of this is absolutely terrible for livelihoods, families.”
While social distancing and the use of masks can help fight the virus, Dr. Groom also questions the efficacy of travel restrictions.
“We haven’t been able to contain the spread of the original virus initially, and all subsequent variants have spread globally,” Grom said. “I think there is limited value in terms of these restrictions.”
Instead, she says vaccinating more of the population would help prevent the most severe cases and deaths.
Roughly 35 percent of South Africa’s adult population is vaccinated, well short of the target of 70 percent.
The figures are even lower in most of the continent.
Experts warn that vaccine disparity will create a breeding ground for the virus to mutate.
Astrid Haas is an independent urban economist in Kampala, Uganda.
“Now in Europe and in North America, in particular, they are talking about booster shots and third vaccines, whereas we now know from the WHO that less than 10% of African countries are even meeting their vaccine targets for this year. are going to meet. …… a very sad expression of global vaccine inequality,” Haas said.
In the absence of vaccinations, a lockdown may be on the horizon.
Such measures have already taken a harsh economic toll in southern Africa.
Haas says the closure of retail and other services has made it difficult for many to survive.
“Particularly with respect to the urban poor is that too much income is used to buy food, or a high proportion of income is used to buy food, and when they are not able to make an income , so it also affects food security,” Haas said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is convening the country’s coronavirus council later this week in response to the new version.
The government says it will announce any new measures in the coming days.