Travel restrictions are to be imposed on six African countries due to growing concerns over a new version of the virus that causes Covid-19, which officials have dubbed the “worst ever”.
U.S. officials sounded the alarm Thursday night over the B.1.1529 variant, which has the potential to ward off immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the delta strain and “the vaccines we currently have may be less effective”.
this is the worst version everUK senior health official
He said flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be suspended from Friday afternoon and all six countries would be added to the red list.
While no cases have been found in the UK, officials raised concerns over the rapid rise in cases in South Africa.
Anyone who has arrived from the country in the last 10 days will be invited by the UK Health Protection Agency to come forward and get tested.
At the moment, between 500 and 700 people are traveling from South Africa to the UK every day, but this figure is expected to increase as the festive period begins.
Mr Javid said: “We have early indications that this variant may be more transmissible than the delta version and that the vaccines we currently have may be less effective against it.
COVID-19 Update:@UKHSA Checking out new variants. More data is needed but we are taking precautions now.
From tomorrow afternoon six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travelers will have to be quarantined.
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 25, 2021
“Now to be clear, we have not detected any of this new version in the UK at this time.
“But we have always been clear that we will take action to protect the progress we have made.
“So what we will do is from tomorrow afternoon we will suspend all flights from six, southern African countries and we will add those countries to the red list of travel. Those countries are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We will require anyone coming from those countries to be quarantined in hotels from 4 a.m. on Sunday.
“If someone comes first then they should self-isolate at home and do PCR test on the second day and on the eighth day. If anyone has come from any of these countries in the last 10 days, we will ask them to get a PCR test done.
Mr. Javid said: “Our scientists are deeply concerned about this type of thing. I worry, of course, that’s one of the reasons we took this action today.”
Asked what the situation would be for the UK in the coming weeks, with Christmas approaching, Mr Javid said: “We have plans, as people know, for the spread of this infection in the UK and we have contingency plans.” There are plans. – The so-called Plan B.
“But today’s announcement, it’s about a new version of South Africa – it’s found in South Africa and Botswana – and it’s about being vigilant and taking action and trying to protect our borders, as much as We can do it.”
He said more work was needed to understand what the variant is related to, adding: “From what we know there are significant numbers of mutations, probably twice the number of mutations we’ve seen in the delta variant.
“This suggests that it may be more permeable and that the current vaccines that we have in place may be less effective.”
This version has not yet been titled the “Worry Version” in the UK, but a senior UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA) expert said: “This is the worst version ever.”
Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
The variant has more than 30 mutations – almost twice as many as the delta variant – which could potentially make it more transmissible and evade the protection offered by prior infection or vaccination.
UKHSA experts have been advising ministers on this issue.
Many scientists have expressed serious concern over the diversity due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.
A senior scientist said: “One of our major concerns is that this virus spike protein is so dramatically different from the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, this is a major cause for concern.”
World Health Organization (WHO) experts are meeting with South African officials on Friday to assess the evolving situation in the country.
The variant may eventually be nicknamed “Nu” – with the most closely related forms given to the Greek alphabet.