Malta has banned travel to and from regions with known cases of the new COVD-19 variant B.1.1529, Health Minister Chris Fearne said this morning.
Travel to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be banned from midnight on Saturday, Fearne said in a tweet.
Travel to and from regions with known cases of the new Covid19 #variant B.1.1.529 to Malta will be temporarily banned from midnight on Saturday. At the moment this includes South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and, Zimbabwe.
— Chris Fearne (@chrisfearne) November 26, 2021
The announcement follows that by the UK which has imposed a mandatory quarantine on all travellers arriving from South Africa over concerns about the new variant, which has been described as the most significant one seen yet.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has also said that she will be proposing an “emergency brake” on air travel to South Africa due to the variant.
The @EU_Commission 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.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021
What do we know about the variant?
The variant B.1.1.529 is heavily mutated and carries an “unusual constellation of mutations” which make it “very different” to other variants seen so far, according to Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the South African Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.
Speaking to the BBC, he said the variant had surprised scientists because it “has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations than expected”.
Of the over 50 mutations, 30 are on the spike protein – the target of most vaccines.
The concern is that with the virus being significantly different from that seen so far meaning that it could evade vaccine protection dealing a heavy blow to global efforts for a return to normality.
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