SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): New restrictions have been placed on travellers from several African countries by the Ministry of Health (MOH) amid reports of a potentially more contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus circulating in that region.
MOH said on Friday (Nov 26) that all travellers with recent travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will from 11.59pm on Saturday no longer be allowed to enter into or transit through Singapore.
This also applies to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore as long as they have been in those countries in the last 14 days.
Returning Singapore citizens and permanent residents will have to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities.
MOH said the new variant, called B.1.1.529, may be circulating in these seven countries, and scientists around the world are still finding out more about it.
Singapore currently has no cases of this variant, it added.
The latest moves are a change from current rules, where anyone who has been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are required to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities.
South Africa will also be placed into Category IV, similar to the above six countries. It is currently a Category II country, which means arriving travellers are subject to a seven-day stay-home notice at their declared place of accommodation.
MOH said these additional border restrictions will apply for four weeks in the first instance, after which it will review and extend the restrictions if necessary.
"While the variant has been suggested to be more transmissible, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine if this variant is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy," the ministry added.
"These aspects are being investigated. The Ministry of Health will evaluate the data as it emerges and review our border measures accordingly."
The new variant has been blamed for a spike in new Covid-19 infections in South Africa, which has had a tenfold increase in daily Covid-19 infections since the start of the month.
The variant has also been detected in Hong Kong, and has prompted Britain to ban all travel from South Africa and five other southern African nations.
The British authorities said that the new variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus.
Scientists say the new variant could be more infectious than the Delta strain and more resistant to current vaccines.