Ge South Africa has just recovered from the third wave of infections and is preparing for the main tourist season. With a low seven-day incidence of 42, everyday life has returned to relatively normal levels. There is a lot of activity at the airports, in restaurants and on the beaches, with fully occupied planes from all over the world landing in Cape Town and Johannesburg every day.
Now the discovery of a new, potentially more dangerous variant of the coronavirus has caused concern both domestically and internationally. On Friday night, Great Britain and Israel already restricted travel to the region. The federal government followed suit on Friday morning. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter that the “emergency brake” for air traffic in southern Africa must be pulled. The South African national currency, the rand, fell during the night to its weakest level against the dollar since the beginning of the year.
One can currently only speculate about whether the variant is worse than the delta variant, said Wolfgang Preiser, virologist from the University of Stellenbosch, the FAZ.The previous findings were derived from the observed mutations, but not from studies in the laboratory or in the population confirmed. But the fact that this variant has an unusually high number of mutations is certainly worrying. “There are already all the warning signs for something unpleasant”.
After the discovery of the beta variant, South Africa and other African countries were classified as variant areas earlier this year. Every person returning to Germany had to be strictly quarantined for 14 days. Only after protests that the beta variant had long been ousted by the internationally rampant Delta variant in South Africa, the travel restrictions were lifted in July.
South Africa has had three waves of infections, each one more violent than the previous one. The second wave of infection was driven by the beta variant, also discovered in South Africa, and the third by the delta variant, which is more contagious than the beta variant. South Africa’s government had responded to the waves of infection with exit restrictions and special rules such as the ban on the sale of alcohol, adapted to the current infection situation.
So far, the new variant seems to be driving up the number of infections in the Gauteng Province with Johannesburg and Pretoria in particular. But it is spreading quickly, said South African scientists. In the next days and weeks, burdens on the health system are to be expected. Health Minister Joe Phaahla called on the population to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
South Africa now has so large vaccine stocks that manufacturers have recently been asked to cut deliveries. But there is considerable vaccination skepticism among the population. So far, only 35 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated. A high proportion of the people infected by B.1.1.529 are younger adults. It remains to be determined whether they are vaccinated.