Berlin  — Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands have joined countries  banning flights from SA to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus believed to be responsible for a recent surge in infections.

By Tuesday, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Sudan, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama were among states that have banned flights to and from SA and the UK, which has also identified a new variant of the virus that spreads more rapidly.

Germany’s travel ban affects people coming from SA, Northern Ireland and Britain, and will remain in place until January 6, according to a document seen by Reuters. Rail and bus operators, shipping companies and airlines are forbidden to transport people from those countries to Germany, it said. German citizens and people living in the country may return home from January 1, but any flights will have to be approved by authorities, it said.

The Dutch government said all passenger flights to and from  SA and Britain were banned with immediate effect until January 1.

Tunisia said it had suspended all air travel with Britain, Australia and SA, citing the new coronavirus strain.

Swiss officials said on Monday they believe the new strain was already in Switzerland, though it had not yet officially been  documented there.

The Swiss government also ordered people who had entered the country from the UK and SA since December 14 to start a 10-day quarantine.

“The virus, unfortunately, is one step ahead of us again,” Patrick Mathys, assistant head of communicable diseases at the federal ministry of health, told a news conference two days after Swiss regulators approved Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine against Covid-19.

In SA, health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that a new variant of Covid-19 had been identified in SA and is circulating widely.

He also confirmed 216 new coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, taking fatalities caused by the virus to 24,907. Mkhize reported 8,789 new cases, taking the national total to  930,711 confirmed infections to date.

Worldwide more than 76.91-million people have been reported to be infected  and nearly 1,7-million​ have died of Covid-19. Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

• Nigeria is advising its subregions to limit public gatherings, close bars and night clubs over the next five weeks amid a spike in new Covid-19 cases there.

Africa's most populous nation could be near a second wave of the novel coronavirus with the number of confirmed cases rising in communities over the past  few weeks.

Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, Abuja and northern state of Kaduna have emerged as new epicentres with over 70% of confirmed cases, said Boss Mustapha, chair  of the presidential task force for Covid-19, who is the country's most senior public  servant.

Reuters, TimesLIVE


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