UK authorities are concerned about a variant of the coronavirus identified in South Africa. There is a risk that this variant will be less susceptible to vaccines, making the fight against the pandemic even more difficult. As a result, Great Britain is closing its borders to travelers from six African countries.
The British Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) says a multitude of spikes the new variant B.1.1.529 makes it significantly different from the original coronavirus.
Urgent research is ongoing to learn more about its transmission, severity and susceptibility to vaccines, UKHSA director Jenny Harries said. For this reason, Great Britain is closing its borders to travelers from six African countries.
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said Thursday night that as of Friday noon, six countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini – will be back on the travel red list. This means that all flights from these countries will be suspended, only UK and Irish nationals and residents will be able to enter the UK, but will have to be quarantined at the hotel upon arrival.
Worldwide, only 59 cases of variant B.1.1.529 have been confirmed so far – in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong. No case has been detected in the UK yet, but the government has advised all those who have returned from one of these six countries in the past 10 days to get a coronavirus test prophylactically.
Scientists “deeply concerned” about the new variant
Javid mentioned that scientists are “deeply concerned” about the new variant, though more needs to be learned about it. What is certain, he said, is that he has a significant number of mutations, “perhaps twice as many mutations as we saw in the Delta variant.”
“And that would suggest that it might be more transmissible and the current vaccines we have might be less effective,” he explained.
The health minister indicated that adding six countries to the red list was a preventive measure aimed at protecting borders as well as possible. At the beginning of October, the last seven countries were removed from the British Red Travel List, though the list remained in case the situation deteriorated.
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) will meet on Friday to evaluate the variant, which was classified as a variant under observation on Wednesday. If elevated to a disturbing variant, it could get a name from the Greek alphabet.
Main photo source: NEIL HALL / PAP / EPA