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South African Variant Unlikely To Fully Negate COVID Vaccines, Scientist Says

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A researcher studying a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa has said the variant is unlikely to completely negate the immunizing effects of vaccines.

British scientists had expressed concern on Monday that COVID-19 vaccines may not be able to protect against the South African variant that has now spread internationally.

An infectious disease expert at the Kwazulu-Natal research innovation and sequencing platform, Richard Lessells, said his understanding of the comments by UK scientists were not based on any new data but on shared information. Kwazulu-Natal research centre played a central role in identifying the variant known as 501y.v2.

South African researchers are studying the effects of mutations in the new variant, including whether natural immunity from exposure to older versions of the virus provides protection against re-infection by the new variant. Lessells said preliminary results from those studies may be ready by the end of this week.

Scientists have identified more than 20 mutations in the 501Y.V2 variant, including several in the spike protein the virus uses to infect human cells.

One of these is at a site that is believed to be important for neutralizing antibodies and is not found in another coronavirus variant discovered in Britain, Lessells said.

“Why we’ve been a bit cautious about flagging out the concern about the (effectiveness of) vaccines is that for many of the vaccines they are thought to induce quite a broad immune response,” he said.

That broad response could target different parts of the spike protein, not just one, he added.

“That’s why we think that although these mutations may have some effect, they are very unlikely to completely negate the effect of the vaccines,” Lessells said.

South Africa’s health ministry acknowledged questions from Reuters but did not give an immediate response. The country has recorded more than 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and in excess of 30,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.

Public health England has said there is no evidence to suggest covid-19 vaccines would not protect against mutated coronavirus variants.

BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin said in an interview last week that his company’s vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the virus, should be able to protect against the British variant.

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Sierra Leone To ‘Impose Covid Curfew And Travel Ban’

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Sierra Leone government has announced a re-introduction of lockdown on the capital city-Freetown.  Authorities also announced a night-time curfew throughout the country to counter what they call the “exponential” increase of coronavirus cases in the country.

Freetown has recorded more than half of the cases of infections in Sierra Leone.

The new measures, initially set for two weeks, and others made public on Thursday, will begin from Monday.

The government center for response to covid-19 also said in a statement, authorities have decided to restrict entry and exit from the western area, the territory corresponding to Freetown and its surroundings.

Restaurants and bars will have to remain closed on weekends and the wearing of masks remains mandatory in public places.

Sierra Leone has reported 3,081 cases of covid-19 and 77 deaths since march last year.

Travel outside Freetown considered essential is subject to a negative Covid test within 72 hours. An electronic pass will be introduced “to regulate essential movements,” the center said. It will also be accessible through a mobile application.

A curfew will be re-established throughout the country from 22H00 to 5H00 (local and GMT).

“Since December 2020, we observe an exponential increase in confirmed cases of Covid-19, largely due to the holiday season”, explains the government center.

Four out of five (80%) cases of infection were detected during routine testing or in travelers leaving the country. This is “a strong indication of active community transmission,” where the precise source of infection is undetermined, a sign of virus circulation and a complicating factor in the response” the government center said.

The former British colony of 7.5 million people had been hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which killed nearly 4,000 people in the country between 2014 and 2016. It is still struggling to recover from a civil war that killed some 120,000 people nearly 20 years after the end of the conflict.

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Central African Republic Declares Emergency As Rebels Surround Bangui

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Central African Republic (CAR) has declared a state of emergency for at least fifteen days to combat rebels who have tried to lay siege on the nation`s capital Bangui.

C.A.R. declared the emergency on Thursday to help it crack down on armed groups, after the united nations’ envoy to the country asked the un security council for the deployment of many more peacekeepers or troops in response to a recent surge in attacks.

Authorities say this move will help the government to detain suspects without the authorization of prosecutors.

Rebel factions now control most of the country and are calling for the resignation of president Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the winner of December’s election.

Last week the rebels launched attacks on the capital’s suburbs, but withdrew after an intervention by the un peacekeeping force. The fighting has forced nearly 60,000 persons to flee the country.

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UK Bans Travel From Tanzania And DR Congo Over COVID

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The United Kingdom has banned passengers from two more African countries, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo from today –Friday, in a move to stop the spread of coronavirus pandemic and the new variant.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a tweet on Thursday, all passengers from these countries except British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residents rights will be denied entry

Shapps said U.K is continuing to monitor COVID-19 rates and new strains of the virus across the globe.  He said this, alongside the suspension of travel corridors and pre-departure testing, will help protect its borders.

Earlier this month passengers from 11 other southern African countries were banned from entering the UK for similar reasons.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Thursday, the continent’s COVID-19 death rate is now higher than the global average. Africa stands at two and a half percent against global average of 2.2%. It listed Democratic Republic of the Congo among 21 African nations with a death rate above 3%.

The authorities in Tanzania have downplayed the extent of the epidemic in the country and have not been releasing any data on infections or deaths.

In June last year, the Tanzanian president John Magufuli declared that the country was “coronavirus-free” thanks to prayers by citizens.

However, the World health Organization (WHO) expressed concern over the country’s strategy on COVID-19.

The authorities from Tanzania or the DR Congo have not yet commented on the development.

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