rrivals from six African countries to the UK will have to quarantine from Friday following the emergence of a new Covid variant, which some experts say is the “worst one we’ve seen so far”.
Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday on Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Thursday evening.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and added “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.
While no cases have been found in Britain, officials raised concern over a rapid rise in cases in South Africa.
People who have arrived from the country in the last 10 days will be invited to take a test.
This is the worst variant we have seen so far
The variant has not yet been given the title “variant of concern” in the UK, but one senior UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) expert said: “This is the worst variant we have seen so far.”
Scientists say the new variant, detected in South Africa, is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province, the country’s health minister Joe Phaahla said.
Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
The variant has over 30 mutations – around twice as many as the Delta variant – which could potentially make it more transmissible and evade the protection given by prior infection or vaccination.
Experts from the UKHSA have been advising ministers on the issue.
A number of scientists have expressed serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.
One senior scientist said: “One of our major worries is this virus spike protein is so dramatically different to the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, that it has a great cause of concern.”
The World Health Organisation’s technical working group is to meet on Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet – it is thought it will be given the moniker “Nu”.