Danish authorities ‘alert’ over Covid-19 variant

Denmark’s health authorities say they are monitoring the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant, B 1.1.529, which is yet to be detected in the Nordic country.

A file photo showing analysis of Covid-19 samples for the B117 variant in January 2021, at Aalborg University.
A file photo showing analysis of Covid-19 samples for the B117 variant in January 2021, at Aalborg University.Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

The B 1.1.529 variant emerged in South African province Gauteng. It has an unusually high number of surface protein mutations, eliciting concern from experts. The variant appears to be spreading rapidly in the province and has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.

The United Kingdom placed South Africa on its “red list” of Covid-19 travel restrictions on Friday and several other countries have suspended flights. The European Commission was reported earlier on Friday to be considering the same measure.

Denmark’s infectious disease agency, the State Serum Institute (SSI), said it does not have enough information on the variant to draw conclusions at the current time.

“We don’t know enough about it to say whether it causes problems with transmission or vaccines. It’s too early,” senior medical consultant Anders Fomsgaard said.

Data from South Africa however indicate a rapid increase in infections, but this has been seen with earlier variants such as the currently-dominant Delta, Fomsgaard added.

The SSI expert therefore urged caution over drawing conclusions before more data is available.

Although SSI is not currently concerned about the variant in Denmark, it is monitoring developments, Fomsgaard said.

“It has so many mutations in the spike protein, it must be a track record. So we are naturally very alert,” he said.

“This means it has altered its important surface proteins very much compared to (the variants) we already know,” he added.

“That could have consequences in the form of increased transmissibility and sensitivity to antibodies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Face masks to return in Denmark from Monday

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”