Travel restrictions with South Africa are to be introduced from Friday as UK experts have dubbed a new Covid variant the worst one so far.
The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – named B.1.1.529 – has a spike protein dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that Covid vaccines are based on.
The variant has been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong, as well as six cases in South Africa. However, zero cases have been confirmed in the UK so far.
Ministers have been advised to impose a travel ban ahead of the Christmas period in a bid to postpone the variant’s arrival to Britain.
Travellers arriving from six southern African countries will have to quarantine from midday GMT on Friday. Flights will also be temporarily banned, according to health secretacy Sajid Javid.
“UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” Javid tweeted.
“From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.”
Javid echoed concerns that the new variant may be able to evade immunity from vaccines, speaking to broadcasters.
“What we do know is there’s a significant number of mutations, perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant. And that would suggest that it may well be more transmissible and the current vaccines that we have may well be less effective,” he explained.
The countries are reported to be South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.