On Thursday, a COVID-19 variant identified by scientists across South Africa has put the entire world on travel alert. Scientists detected the variant after noticing an increase in the infection rate in South Africa's economic hub surrounding Johannesburg. According to South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, 22 positive cases have been identified within the country and two cases in Hong Kong, linked to someone who had traveled from South Africa.
On Thursday itself, the Indian Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan rolled out an advisory to all states and UTs about multiple cases of a Covid-19 variant B.1.1529 identified in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.
According to an Indian Express report, "Hours after South African authorities announced they had detected a new variant of the novel coronavirus with a 'very unusual constellation' of mutations, the Union Health Ministry directed states to rigorously screen and test travelers coming from or transiting through three countries in which the variant had been confirmed — South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong."
"This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel," the IE report quoted Rajesh Bhushan.
SA COVID variant puts countries on alert
While India has resorted to extensive screening and testing as a risk management alternative, countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Singapore and Israel have already banned travel to South Africa, according to various news reports.
According to a Reuters report, the United Kingdom has said that the variant has been considered by scientists as the most significant one yet detected because it can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
"Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK's decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps," the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.