NIPH is following new coronavirus variant
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The NIPH is working to obtain more information and assess the new virus variant discovered in South Africa. It is still too early to say which consequences the new variant may have for the infection situation in Norway.
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Not yet detected in Norway or other European countries
The new virus variant, with the designation B.1.1.529, is a mutated version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We still know very little about the new variant.
“We are now working to obtain more information and have begun a risk assessment of the new variant. The new variant has not been detected in Norway or other European countries that we know of. We are aware of one case in Hong Kong, and one in Botswana, in addition to the cases in the Guateng region in South Africa” says Frode Forland, Scientific Director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The virus variant has multiple mutations. Many of these changes are in the important spike protein on the surface of the virus.
“At present, we do not know whether the virus is more contagious than other viruses or whether it causes more disease or escapes the vaccine better than the other viruses we are used to. But we know that the virus is increasing transmission in Gauteng in South Africa and is now dominant there. The next few days will be important to better understand the virus and assess the significance of the new variant,” he explains.
Low vaccination coverage where variant is detected
“From what we know now, this new variant has settled in an area where there is very low vaccination coverage, so we do not yet know if the variant can escape the effect of the vaccine,” says Frode Forland.
Only 24 % of the population in South Africa is fully vaccinated, but the proportion with natural immunity after a previous infection is considered to be much higher. Therefore, it is important to monitor this variant and whether it also has a potential for transmission in other countries with higher vaccination coverage.
“South Africa has good systems in place to detect virus variants. It is important to remember that the countries that report variants are not necessarily the country of origin, or that these countries are the only ones that have such variants,” adds Forland.
Too early to comment on measures
The NIPH does not yet know what the transmission potential of the new variant may be outside South Africa.
“There is every reason to follow this variant very closely, but we need more information before we can decide which measures may be effective. It is also too early to say whether stricter entry restrictions or other measures will be relevant recommendations for Norway,” he concludes.
Rules for travellers outside the EU / EEA / Schengen and UK
Following the Government's decision last week, the rules for travellers from areas outside the EU, EEA and Schengen and UK were changed from Thursday at midnight. These are currently:
- Travellers over the age of 18 years who arrive in Norway who are not fully vaccinated, or cannot document having had COVID-19 within the last 6 months with a COVID-19 certificate with a QR code that can be verified by the Norwegian authorities, must have a certificate to confirm a negative test for SARS-CoV-2.
- Entry registration requirement for everyone over 16 years.
- Quarantine duty for 10 days after arrival for all over 18 years can be shortened by negative PCR test after 3 full days. For travellers under 18 years, a test is recommended within 3 full days after arrival. This does not apply to people who are fully vaccinated or have had COVID-19 in the last 6 months and can document this in a COVID-19 certificate with a QR code that can be verified by Norwegian authorities.
- Duty to test on arrival for all, no later than 24 hours after arrival. This does not apply to people who are fully vaccinated or have had COVID-19 in the last 6 months and can document this in a COVID-19 certificate with a QR code that can be verified by Norwegian authorities.