PUTRAJAYA: Malaysians are banned from visiting several African countries following the emergence of the new B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, at a press conference on Friday (Nov 26), said the countries involved are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The travel ban takes effect on Saturday (Nov 27).
Khairy also said foreigners with a history of travel to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe over the past 14 days would not be allowed to enter Malaysia.
Malaysians and permanent residents returning home after visiting those African countries are allowed to enter Malaysia but must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
"The quarantine cannot be done at home and must be at quarantine stations, regardless of the traveller's vaccination status," said Khairy.
Samples will also be taken from all travellers arriving from the seven countries for genomic surveillance.
Khairy said based on genomic surveillance up to Nov 26, there are no reports of the B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant in Malaysia.
"The Health Ministry views the existence of this new variant seriously. We will increase our genomic surveillance on individuals arriving from affected countries.
"Continuous monitoring for genomic surveillance is conducted by a consortium consisting of the Health Ministry through the Institute of Medical Research (IMR); the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry as well as the Higher Education Ministry.
The first case involving the B.1.1.529 variant was detected in Botswana on Nov 11 and the second found in South Africa on Nov 14.
An individual in Hong Kong who recently visited South Africa was found to be infected with the same variant on Nov 25.
Reports have said the B.1.1.529 variant has 32 protein spike mutations, which is two times more than the Delta variant.
Scientists around the world are still finding out if this variant is more transmissible than Delta, and whether it would lead to severe illnesses and if it affects vaccine efficacy.