• Scientists in South Africa have identified a new coronavirus variant, B.1.1.529, which has what Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, described as a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” including over 30 in the spike protein. The number and location of the variant’s mutations raise concerns that it might be able to evade antibodies from a previous infection or a vaccine. “…these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. So far, South Africa has detected 22 cases of the Omicron variant, mostly among young people, only 25 percent of whom have been vaccinated.
South African scientists will meet with the WHO technical team to discuss the new variant, and the authorities will assign it a letter of the Greek alphabet. But other countries are not waiting for WHO to issue guidance; the UK quickly announced a ban on flights from South Africa and surrounding countries. South Africa’s government responded by saying “The U.K.’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the U.K. seems to have been rushed, as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.” Nonetheless, Israel and Singapore have rapidly followed suit, and the European Commission will propose restricting air travel to the bloc. Source
• France’s government announced that all adults ages 18 and over are now eligible for a coronavirus booster, beginning five months after their second injection at the earliest, and that health passes would become invalid for people do not a booster shot within seven months of their second dose. Source
• The EMA approves the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11; their recommendation will be sent to the European for final approval, after which national health authorities will decide if and when they will start vaccinating young children. Source
• Bloomberg reports that the EU is recommending a 9-month time limit for COVID-19 vaccinations for travel into and within the bloc and prioritizing vaccinated travelers. The European Commission has proposed new travel regulations, based on an individual’s status rather than that of their country of origin. As of 1 March, 2022, vaccinated and recovered travelers with an EU digital Covid certificate, or an equivalent pass, will be able to enter the bloc; countries can whether to require additional testing after arrival, quarantine or self-isolation. Travelers who have recovered from COVID-19 or been vaccinated with shots that are not EMA-authorized, but have been approved by WHO will be required to provide a negative PCR test. The proposals will go to member states for approval. Source
• As COVID-19 deaths in Germany surpass 100,000, the country’s seven-day incidence rate reached a new high of 420 cases per 100,000 people. Source
• Morocco, which has vaccinated 50 percent of its population, is imposing vaccine passes for access to public places and suspending air travel to France (in addition to the Netherlands, Russia, and the UK) due to concerns about COVID-19. Source