The world is bracing for a potential fourth wave of the Covid-19 as a new variant said to have multiple mutations has been discovered.
And Malawi may have to undertake a serious check of itself as a statement, said to have been issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health, indicates that a traveller from the country to Israel carried the variant.
“A variant that was discovered in south African countries has been identified in Israel. This is a traveller who returned from Malawi and in addition, there is suspicion of two more cases in returnees from abroad who are currently waiting for the results of genetic sequencing and they were sent for isolation,” reads the statement posted on a twitter account of a Netherlands media outlet known as BNO.
The variant was first discovered recently in Botswana and South Africa where it is said to be spreading.
According to scientists, the new variant which is labeled as of lineage B.1.1.529 is likely to evade the immunity response generated by prior infection and vaccination.
The Ministry of Health has since said there is no room for relaxation on Covid-19 prevention measures at all levels as the new variant prowls.
Principal Secretary for Health, Charles Mwansambo, said government hopes Malawi is spared from any future waves. But he called for vigilance.
“Everyone coming into the country is required to come with a negative Covid-19 PCR test done (in the country of origin) within 72 hours of their arriving in Malawi and to follow all the Covid-19 preventive measures when they are in the country.
“It should not just be the police and Ministry of Health officials to enforce preventive measures. All people should play their rightful part,” Mwansambo said.
He said currently Malawi has plenty of vaccines, so those who have not yet had their jab should go for vaccination.
In response to the variant, the UK has since suspended flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe. The six countries would be added to the red list and those traveling to the UK will be quarantined.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted on Thursday that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is investigating the new variant.
He said his government is collecting more data and it was taking precautions.
The new B.1.1.529 variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective,” said Javid.
He said from Sunday, new arrivals in the UK will be required to quarantine in hotels.
The UKHSA has said the new variant is the worst they have seen so far and has a spike protein that is different to the original Covid strain.
At least 500 to 700 people travel to the UK from South Africa each day but the number was expected to increase in the run up to Christmas.
The variant is said to have 30 mutations – twice as many as the Delta variant of the third wave – and these mutations are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination, scientists say.
However B.1.1.529 can be detected with a normal PCR test.
So far, as we went to press three cases had been recorded in Botswana, 53 in South Africa and one in Hong Kong from someone who had travelled from South Africa.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have said they are also introducing the new rules.
The variant comes as Malawi, like the rest of the world, has been registering a steady decline in new cases and mortality rates.
As of Thursday, November 25, Malawi registered only 5 new cases after days of registering no case at all or a maximum of 2 per day.
The country has registered a total 2,304 deaths, 58,763 recoveries and 61,872 cumulative confirmed cases as of Thursday.
In terms of vaccination, 597,372 Malawians have been fully vaccinated.