British scientists sounded the alarm about variant B.1.1.529, which could bypass immunity built up by vaccinations or previous infections, and which has seen a rapid increase in cases in South Africa
Britain has put South Africa and five other countries on its red list as a new variant of Covid, known as the “worst we’ve seen so far,” rages around the world.
Health Minister Sajid Javid has confirmed that from noon tomorrow flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be temporarily banned and British travelers will have to be quarantined.
British scientists sounded the alarm on Thursday evening about the new variant B.1.1.529, which they described as “the worst we have seen so far”. This variant has the ability to bypass immunity built up by vaccination or previous infection.
While no cases have been detected in the UK so far, officials have expressed concern over a rapid surge in cases in South Africa that could soon spread around the world.
Mr. Javid said, “Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant. I am of course concerned, it is one of the reasons we have taken these measures today.”
When asked what the situation would mean for the UK in the coming weeks as Christmas drew near, he continued: “We have, as people know, plans for this infection to spread here in the UK and we have contingency plans – the so-called Plan B.
“But today’s announcement is about a new variant from South Africa – it was discovered in South Africa and Botswana – and this is about being careful and taking action and trying to protect our borders as best we can.”
To receive the latest news and stories from around the world from the Latest Page News, sign up for our newsletter by clicking here.
There are currently around 500 to 700 people traveling to the UK from South Africa every day, but it is expected that this number could increase as the festive season begins.
The variant has not yet been identified as a “questionable variant” in the UK, but a senior UKHSA expert said, “This is the worst variant we have seen so far.”
Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
The variant has over 30 mutations – about twice as many as the delta variant – that could potentially make it more transmissible and could circumvent the protection of a previous infection or vaccination.
UKHSA experts advise ministers on this matter.
A number of scientists have raised serious concerns about the variant because of the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.
One senior scientist said, “One of our greatest concerns is that this virus spike protein is so dramatically different from the virus spike that was found in the original Wuhan strain and thus in our vaccines that there is great cause for concern . “
World Health Organization (WHO) experts meet with South African officials on Friday to assess the developing situation in the country.
The variant might end up being nicknamed “Nu” – with the most worrying variants being named after the Greek alphabet.
It comes when Israel also announced that it is banning its citizens from entering southern Africa and foreigners from the region due to the new variant.
The same six countries, plus Mozambique, were placed on Israel’s “red” or highest risk travel list, which reflects coronavirus infection rates abroad.
Israelis are not allowed to travel to countries that are on the “red” list unless they are granted special permission from the Israeli Ministry of Health.
In a statement announcing the measures, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that citizens of the seven South African nations would not be allowed to enter Israel.
Israelis returning home from these countries must spend between 7 and 14 days in a quarantined hotel after arriving.