The Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says it strongly discourages the imposition of a travel ban on people originating from countries that have reported the new variant of Covid-19.
According to the African disease control agency, “over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome.”
It advised that implementing Public Health and Social Measures (PHSM) should be prioritised, adding that vaccines remain a key tool to prevent severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 infection.
“Africa CDC strongly recommends the implementation of public health and social measures (PHSM), including mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand washing, as crucial to limit the transmission of COVID-19 regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.”
It advised national health authorities to reinforce PHSM implementation and accelerate immunisation of their populations, prioritising high-risk groups, ahead of upcoming new waves of Covid-19 infections.
“Public health laboratories and researchers should closely monitor the rate of S gene dropout results. Timely genomic surveillance should be reinforced through coordination with national and regional pathogen genomics laboratories,” the statement read.
Africa CDC said it will, through the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative, support this coordination on the continent, adding that member states should notify Africa CDC immediately if they identify any new SARS-CoV-2 variant.
“Africa CDC will continue to monitor the situation and provide further guidance to Member States and the public as more information becomes available about the B.1.1.529 variant.”
PREMIUM TIMES reported earlier that many non-African countries including the UK, Israel and the European Union have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and other southern African countries where the new variant has been detected.
Most African countries including Nigeria have yet to impose any travel restrictions.
What is known about the new variant- B.1.1.529
On November 25, 2021, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa announced the detection of a new variant of the SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, following genomic sequencing. This variant is currently labelled as lineage B.1.1.529.
The emergence of this new variant coincides with a sudden increase in cases in the Gauteng province over recent days and is accordingly being closely monitored by the health authorities in South Africa.
It was detected in 77 samples collected between November 12 and 20 from Gauteng province in South Africa, four samples from Botswana and one sample in Hong Kong.
The B.1.1.529 variant displays multiple mutations across the virus genome, including more than 30 in the region which encodes the spike protein responsible for virus entry into host cells.
Some of the mutations have been detected in previous variants, such as Alpha and Delta, and have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion.
Many of the other identified mutations are not yet well characterised and have not been identified in other currently circulating variants.
More investigations are underway to determine the possible impact of these mutations on the capacity of the virus to transmit more efficiently, to impact vaccine effectiveness and evade immune response, and/or to cause more severe or milder disease.
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