Travel between South Africa and the United States (US) is expected to be banned again when newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden reinstates a host of border restrictions on Monday.
These restrictions will also be extended to countries in Europe and South America.
Since the discovery of 501Y V2 – a Covid-19 variant, first detected in the Eastern Cape, which was recently found to be significantly more infectious than the original virus – travellers from South Africa have been subjected to strict international bans. A dozen countries, including Vietnam, Israel, and the UK, fearing the new variant’s pervasive spread, have banned travel from South Africa since December 2020.
The US, which has registered more than 25 million Covid-19 cases and 400,000 deaths, will be the latest country to ban travel from South Africa on the advice of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Speaking to Reuters in an exclusive interview on Sunday, CDC principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat confirmed that South Africa would be added to the list of restricted countries amid serious concerns surrounding the 501Y V2 variant.
Schuchat’s remarks coincide with warnings issued by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top advisor on Covid-19. “We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless, not something that we don’t think we can handle,” said Fauci.
He noted that an increase in transmissibility would result in more infections, hospitalisations and, ultimately, more deaths.
While almost 65 million people have already received their vaccine jabs as part of the global rollout which started in mid-December, concerns around the new variant’s impact on immunisation efforts remain a hot topic among medical researchers.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will not be as effective in combatting the 501Y V2 variant, but, said Fauci, a 10% to 15% drop in efficacy levels does not completely negate the immunisation strategy. A vaccine with an efficacy of 80% is still better than not being vaccinated at all, argued Fauci in favour of mass inoculations.
During the final days of his presidential term, Donald Trump announced that travel restrictions impacting the UK, Ireland and Brazil would be lifted. Schuchat said that these bans would be reinstated, along with restrictions on travel from 26 European countries.
It’s expected that returning citizens will be the only persons allowed to enter the US from restricted countries. These US citizens will likely be subjected to international travel policies, which include presenting a negative Covid-19 test prior to departure and a mandatory self-isolation period.
South Africans are currently expected to be banned with effect from Saturday.
The 501Y V2 variant has been detected in more than 23 countries but has not been registered in the US. Instead, the UK variant known as B.1.1.7, which is also regarded as more infectious than the original virus, has been detected in 20 US states.
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)