“We’re very worried about the new mutation of the virus discovered in India. So as not to endanger our vaccination programme, travel from India has to be significantly limited,” Spahn told the Funke newspaper group.
As of Saturday, April 24th, 22.8 percent of the population had received a first vaccine dose and 7 percent were fully vaccinated with two doses, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
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From Monday, only German citizens will be allowed to enter the country when arriving from India, he added. People with German residence permits are also allowed to enter.
But as India is classed as a “virus variant zone”, travellers will have to be tested before departure for Germany and immediately enter a 14-day quarantine on arrival.
Berlin had already dubbed India a “zone with particularly high risk of infection” with effect from Sunday.
Germany is the latest of several countries to restrict travel from India over the new variant, following Canada, Britain and Kuwait.
And Manfred Weber, Leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has called for all flights from India to the EU to be stopped, German daily Bild reported.
Countries have been on high alert for the new “double mutant” variant, known as B.1.617, with several having already suspended flights from India.
More contagious variant?
The World Health Organisation has so far only listed the variant as a “variant of interest”, but there is concern that vaccines may protect less effectively against this variant because of the two mutations in key areas of the virus’ spike protein.
A “variant of concern” is one that is “suspected” to be either more contagious than the original strain, cause more severe disease, or escape the protection offered by vaccines.
Professor Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian that the arrival of the India variant was potentially worrying.
“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” he said. “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”
However, other experts were less concerned.
“It is not possible to discern a reliable trend from the few observations we have, but we should observe it closely,” Richard Neher, Head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria Research Group at the University of Basel’s Centre of Molecular Life Sciences, according to Stern magazine.
Given the lack of knowledge about the many variants with noteworthy mutations, Neher said he did not believe that the Indian variant deserved any more concern than others.
Christian Drosten, a virologist at Berlin’s Charité teaching hospital, also did not see the new variant as a cause for concern, he said in an NDR podcast at the end of March.
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Germany’s new travel restrictions came as Switzerland reported its first case of the India variant and after Belgian authorities on Thursday said a group of 20 Indian nursing students who arrived from Paris had tested positive for the variant in the country.
India’s healthcare system is meanwhile buckling under a new wave of infections.
On Saturday, Covid-19 case numbers and deaths in the country set another grim new record, while the government is struggling to provide enough oxygen to overwhelmed hospitals.
The number of deaths across India climbed by 2,624 in the 24 hours to Saturday, up from Friday’s 2,263, according to official figures.
A total of almost 190,000 people have died of coronavirus across the country.