As a result of the detection of a new Covid-19 variant, first found in the Eastern Cape, some European, Asian, Central American and African countries have moved swiftly to impose bans on travel to and from South Africa. It is a potentially more infectious SARS-CoV-2 mutation.
The variant, known as 501.V2, has been identified in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and along the Garden Route and scientists have argued that it may have properties that allow it to spread faster than other variants of the coronavirus.
As a result, on Wednesday, the UK imposed restrictions on flights to and from South Africa. UK secretary of state for health Matt Hancock said that the restrictions would take effect immediately. He added that anyone in the UK who had been in South Africa during the past two weeks must quarantine immediately.
“As part of our surveillance, and thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we have detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK.”
The UK joined a long list of countries that had already announced restrictions on South African travel.
On Sunday, Israel was among the first to ban travel to and from South African when its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that all commercial flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa had been suspended.
He also announced that any travellers returning to Israel, who had spent any period of time in any of these countries in the past 30 days, would be subject to a mandatory quarantine period.
Turkey took similar steps, with the country’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announcing a temporary ban on all flights from Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and South Africa.
Citing the dangers of the new Covid-19 variant, Koca said: “It has been reported that the rate of transmission has increased with the mutation of the coronavirus.”
The German and Swiss governments have announced a ban on incoming flights from South Africa from Monday, after Africa’s most industrial nation warned of the emergence of the new coronavirus variant.
German government deputy spokesperson Martina Fietz said the temporary suspension would be reviewed on December 31.
The Swiss embassy in South Africa confirmed that “due to the mutated Covid-19 virus, the federal council of Switzerland has introduced a general entry ban for foreign nationals seeking to enter Switzerland from South Africa”.
Only “Swiss citizens including citizens of Liechtenstein” and holders of Swiss permanent residence would be allowed to travel from South Africa back to Switzerland.
While other countries took a targeted approach in banning travel from South Africa and the UK, as the countries most affected by the new Covid-19 variant, Saudi Arabia has taken a blanket approach and imposed an international travel restriction.
The Middle East kingdom’s ministry of health has confirmed the suspension of all international flights, with passengers who were in transit on Monday 21 December allowed to complete their travel.
The travel bans are expected to last until the end of 2020 and may be extended if cases continue to rise in high-risk countries.
The only country from the Americas that has imposed restrictions on South Africa has been Panama. The Central American nation announced that travellers from the UK and South Africa would be barred entry, effective from Tuesday.
Mauritius has been the first African country to restrict travel to and from South Africa. On Monday, the Indian Ocean island nation confirmed that any person who had resided in or travelled through the UK or South Africa in the last 15 days would be banned from entering the country.