A coronavirus variant that was identified in South Africa has been detected in Germany for the first time, the Social Affairs Ministry in the state of Baden-Württemberg said on Tuesday.
The infection was detected in one individual that had recently traveled to Germany with family after a long stay in South Africa.
All of the family members had reportedly tested negative for the coronavirus five days after arrival.
However, a week later, several family members began showing mild symptoms. Six people from three households are now confirmed to have been infected with coronavirus, and one infection is of the South African variant.
Samples from the other family members are now being tested to determine if the South African variant is present, the ministry said.
What is the new variant?
The South African variant, and another originating in the United Kingdom, appear to be more transmissible than the original virus.
It has also been been detected in the UK, Finland, France and Israel. Switzerland, Denmark and the UK have banned incoming travelers from South Africa.
Although health experts do not yet consider the mutated coronavirus to be more dangerous, its accelerated spread presents a greater challenge to public health officials, who are racing to vaccinate populations.
The UK variant has already been detected in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the UK variant could "take the lead over the old virus" in a very short amount of time, adding that there is a danger of exponential growth of cases.
"That's why we need to be extremely careful," Merkel said.
More vaccinations needed
Vaccine makers have said that vaccines currently available should be effective against the new variant.
Frank Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, told DW that the presence of the new variant in Germany makes the fast rollout of a vaccine even more critical.
"In Germany, we have a high rate of complete anti vaxxers, about 15% of the population who will not take any vaccination at all," he said, while ruling out calls right now for mandatory vaccination.
"The enforcement of a mandatory vaccination will be very difficult," he said, adding that once more people are vaccinated, and the effects are better known, discussion of requiring a COVID vaccination could move forward.
"Within the next 12 months, we need to vaccinate everyone who is willing in this population and then we can discuss all these difficult issues," he said.
wmr/rt (AFP, Reuters)