New COVID variant: Germany to ban travel from South Africa
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn announced on Friday that Germany would suspend travel to and from South Africa, citing concerns about a newly-discovered variant of COVID-19 with a large number of mutations.
Germany designates South Africa area of variant of concern
From Friday night, South Africa will be designated an area of variant of concern, the federal government announced. The new rules mean that airlines will only be allowed to transport German citizens and residents to Germany, and all new arrivals will be forced to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, regardless of their vaccination status.
Spahn said that the news of the new variant “worries us, so we are acting proactively and at an early stage.” He added: “The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems.”
Not much is yet known about the new variant, which is still known as B.1.1.529, having not yet been given a Greek title by the World Health Organisation. What is giving experts cause for concern, however, is that it not only seems to be highly contagious but also has an unusually large number of mutations, making it more difficult for the body to fight off. There are concerns it may be more resistant to vaccines than other variants, but this has not yet been confirmed.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla suggested that the new variant could be the cause of an “exponential” increase in cases in South Africa over the past week. He described the variant as “seriously worrying.”
EU approves Pfizer vaccine for children
The news comes just as the EMA, the EU’s medicines regulator, cleared the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine for use on children aged five to 11, an age group where the virus is currently spreading rapidly. The EU Commission will likely issue its approval in the coming days, but the ultimate decision whether to roll out the jab among young cohorts rests with individual nation states.
Even young population groups could eventually find themselves in line for booster shots, after the EU Commission proposed this week to reduce the maximum validity of coronavirus vaccines to nine months. This means that in the future booster shots will likely be needed to extend the validity of the digital COVID certificate.
“We propose a validity period of nine months for the EU-wide vaccination certificate, after which it would lose its validity without proof of a booster vaccination,” said commissioner Didier Reynders. The idea would be to continue to guarantee freedom of travel across the bloc by ensuring uniform rules on the validity of vaccines. The Commission is proposing that the new rules come into effect on January 10, 2022.