Covid-19 has infected more than 260M people and killed over 5.2M. Here are the latest developments related to the pandemic for November 26, 2021:

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world raced Friday to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent.
Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world raced Friday to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent. (AP)

Friday, November 26, 2021

US imposes travel restrictions on southern African countries

The United States has announced it is restricting travel from eight southern African countries over fears of a new variant of Covid-19, a US official said.

Travel will be restricted starting Monday from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, a senior Biden administration official said.

Only US citizens and residents will still be able to travel from the eight countries, the official added.

Canada bans foreigners who have traveled in southern Africa

Canada has announced it is banning the entry of foreign nationals who have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days after discovery of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Government ministers also said testing will be mandatory for all Canadians who have travelled to southern Africa in the last 14 days. They will be tested on arrival and must quarantine until they get a negative test result.

Those who have arrived in Canada in the last 14 days were also asked to quarantine and get tested.

Turkey imposes ban on travellers from 5 African countries

Turkey has imposed a ban on travel from five African countries after the emergence of a new coronavirus variant.

“Travel from Botswana, Republic of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to our country through all our land, air, sea, and rail border crossings will not be allowed as of tonight,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

Separately, the Health Ministry recorded 24,002 new cases and 201 related deaths.

Europe bans southern Africa flights over new strain

Europe has rushed to ban travel from southern Africa to slow the spread of a new Covid-19 strain that scientists fear could torpedo efforts to beat the pandemic.

Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands joined Britain in announcing travel bans.

The bans all included South Africa, and in many cases also some or all of the following: Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The EU commission said it would swiftly coordinate joint action among the bloc's 27-member states.

The rush to close off southern Africa comes a day after scientists in Johannesburg said they had detected the new strain with at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta.

Belgium detects first case of new variant in Europe

Belgium has detected Europe's first confirmed case of the new variant and at the same time announced measures aimed at curbing a rapidly spreading fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told a news conference that a case of variant B.1.1.529 had been found in an unvaccinated person who had developed symptoms and tested positive on November 22.

BioNTech/Pfizer expect new variant impact data 'within 2 weeks'

Germany's BioNTech has said it was urgently studying how well the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Pfizer protects against the new variant.

"We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest," a spokesperson said.

"These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally."

WHO cautions against travel curbs over new variant

The WHO has cautioned against imposing travel restrictions due to the B.1.1.529 Covid variant, saying it would take weeks to understand the implications of the newly discovered strain.

The World Health Organization said its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) was holding a meeting to discuss the variant first detected through surveillance in South Africa.

As European nations began banning flights from South Africa, the UN health agency said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach when considering travel curbs in light of the variant – but cautioned against restrictions.

Philippines suspends flights from countries with new variant

The Philippines has suspended flights from countries with cases of the new variant, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said.

"(T)he temporary suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa, Botswana, and other countries with local cases or with the likelihood of occurrences of the B.1.1.529 variant ... shall take effect immediately," spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a statement.

Japan to require 10-day quarantine over variant

Japan has said it will require a 10-day quarantine period for travellers arriving from six countries after the discovery of a new variant.

From Saturday, Tokyo will ask travellers coming from South Africa and neighbouring Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana to stay at designated facilities on arrival.

They will also be tested immediately after landing, as well as three other times during their 10-day quarantine, the government said.

World's largest vaccine maker resumes shot exports

The world's largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India has resumed exports of Covid-19 shots, it said, in a boost for poorer countries that have struggled to secure supplies.

The shipment to Tajikistan under the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative agreement was the company's first in seven months.

India blocked vaccine exports in April as it struggled to combat a vicious second wave of coronavirus infections and vaccine shortages of its own.

Morocco bans travellers from South Africa 

Morocco banned entry to travellers arriving from South Africa due to concerns related to the spread of Covid-19, foreign ministry said in a tweet.

EU ending approval system for vaccine exports

The EU will end its mandatory checks-and-approval system for Covid-19 vaccine exports when it expires at the end of the year, the European Commission said.

The mechanism, brought in January 29, was used in April to ban a shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses to Australia at a time in which the European Union was struggling with low vaccine supplies.

Now the 27-nation bloc has fully vaccinated 68 percent of its population of 445 million and has ample stocks for a booster campaign that has started in several member states.

EU proposes banning flights from southern Africa over variant

The European Union aims to halt air travel from the southern African region amid rising concern about a new Covid-19 variant detected in South Africa.

"The 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," EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Friday.

The executive Commission will recommend that all 27 member states implement the measure and hopes for the European Council to give the green light as soon as possible, an EU official added.

Decisions of the European Council, which represents member states, do not have to be taken by ministers but can also be signed off by the country's ambassadors in Brussels.

Italy bans visitors from southern Africa

Italy is banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Swaziland in the past fortnight due to fears over a new coronavirus variant.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, "and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution".

Israel finds case of Covid variant first detected in South Africa

Israel has identified a case of a Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations first detected in South Africa.

"The variant discovered in southern African states has been identified in Israel," the health ministry said on Friday.

The case was recorded "in a person who returned from Malawi," with "two more cases of people returning from abroad" placed in quarantine, it added.

Britain says new Covid variant most significant yet found

Britain says that a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa was considered by scientists to be the most significant one yet found and so it needed to ascertain whether or not it made vaccines ineffective.

Defending a ban on flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the lesson of Covid was that early action was essential.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – called B.1.1.5 29 – has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that Covid-19 vaccines are based on.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the UK Health Security Agency said that no cases of the variant had been detected in Britain.

South Africa calls British travel ban over new Covid variant 'rushed'

Britain's decision to ban flights from South Africa because of the detection of a new Covid-19 variant "seems to have been rushed", South Africa's Foreign Ministry has said.

"Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries," South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

South Africa will engage with British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their decision, the statement added.

South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.

Scientists have so far only detected the B.1.1.529 variant in relatively small numbers in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, but they are concerned by its high number of mutations which could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible.

Australia investigates new variant found in South Africa

Australia is investigating the newly identified Covid-19 variant spreading in South Africa and warned it may close its borders to travellers from the African nation if risks from the new strain rise.

South African scientists are concerned the new variant could evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible as it has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations.

Australia Health Minister Greg Hunt said he would swiftly respond if the World Health Organization classifies it as a major new variant.

Australia has reported about 205,000 cases and 1,985 deaths so far, lower than many other countries in the developed world.

UK suspends flights from 6 African nations

Flights from South Africa and five other countries will be suspended beginning midday Friday because of a new coronavirus variant.

“UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we're taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said late Thursday in a tweet.

Arrivals from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days and pay for the stay.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first identified November 11 in Botswana.

“The early indication we have of this variant is it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it," Javid was quoted in the media.

World Health Organization officials will meet on Friday with South African officials to assess the situation.

Philippines to reopen to some foreign tourists from next week
The Philippines will reopen its borders to tourists from some countries on a trial basis from December 1 as part of efforts to rebuild an economy hit hard by the pandemic.

Foreigners vaccinated against Covid-19 from countries designated low risk by the Philippines will be allowed entry over an initial 15-day period, Karlo Nograles, acting presidential spokesperson, told a regular news conference.

"This is something we are doing step by step," Nograles said, adding that the two-week window could be extended.

The Philippines, popular for its white sand beaches and rich marine life, shut its doors to foreign tourists at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

Its tourism arrivals from top markets Japan, South Korea and China slumped 83 percent drop to 1.4 million last year.

Czech Republic reports record 27,717 daily cases

The Czech Republic has reported 27,717 new coronavirus cases for Thursday, the highest daily tally in the country of 10.7 million since the pandemic started.

The official data showed the epidemic gaining pace with 131,731 cases detected over past seven days, compared to 73,200 cases reported for all of October.

Thursday's tally was the third record count reported in the past seven days.

In the latest attempt to stem one of the world's highest infection rates, the Czech government on Thursday ordered bars and clubs to close at 10 p.m. and banned Christmas markets. 

Stocks fall as new Covid variant spooks investors

Stocks have seen their largest weekly drop in nearly two months, while safe haven assets such as bonds and the yen rallied as a new virus variant added to swirling concerns about future growth and higher US interest rates.

The variant, detected by scientists in South Africa, may be able to evade immune responses and has prompted Britain to hurriedly introduce travel restrictions on South Africa.

South Africa's rand fell 1 percent in early trade on Friday, as did US crude futures. 

S&P 500 futures fell 0.4 percent, while the risk-sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars dropped to three-month lows.

"The trigger was news of this Covid variant...and the uncertainty as to what this means," said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney. 

"You shoot first and ask questions later when this sort of news erupts."

Japan's Nikkei was down 1.7 percent in early trade and Australian shares fell 0.6%.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.2% for a weekly fall of 1 percent and world stocks, while still near record highs, headed for a weekly fall of 0.7 percent, the largest since early October.

Little is known about the new variant. However, scientists told reporters it has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, concerning because they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible.

Brazil, Mexico record hundreds of new coronavirus deaths

Mexico has recorded 263 coronavirus deaths, according to Health Ministry data, bringing the overall coronavirus death toll to 293,449.

Brazil registered 303 deaths and 12,126 additional cases, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry.

The South American country has now registered a total of 613,642 coronavirus deaths and 22,055,238 total confirmed cases.

France's Martinique territory imposes curfew after looting

Authorities on the Caribbean island of Martinique have ordered a curfew after protesters looted shops and set up burning barricades as demonstrations against Covid protocols spread across France's overseas' territories.

Martinique and neighbouring Guadeloupe have been hit by violent unrest over the last week after the government imposed tougher measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Compulsory vaccination for health workers, a measure already introduced in the rest of France, has added to a sentiment among the majority Black population of being excluded and marginalized from the mainland. 

Protesters are also now calling for salary hikes and lower energy prices.

Some have called the mandate a throwback to the slavery era, insisting they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment.

Morocco to suspend flights with France

Morocco has decided to push back its decision to suspend flight with France into Sunday instead of Friday as originally announced, the state news agency reported.

The agency quoted the inter-ministerial committee in charge of coordinating international travel during the pandemic as saying that the decision is aimed at facilitating the return of citizens and residents.

Morocco has imposed a vaccine pass for access to public places after it vaccinated over 50 percent of its population.

Morocco had previously canceled flights with Russia, the UK and the Netherlands over Covid-19 concerns.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies