(CMR) UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that there would be six countries added to the UK's red list with flight being banned after a new variant referred to as B.1.1.529 was described as “the worst one we've seen so far.” The new variant has a “significant number of mutations” making it likely more dangerous.
59 cases have been confirmed in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far. Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we're taking precautions now.
All flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini have been suspended. Javid noted that scientists are “deeply concerned” about the new variant and are trying to learn more about it. Non-UK and Irish residents will be banned from entering England if they have been to any of the six countries in the past 10 days. The UK has around 700 people traveling to the UK from South Africa daily.
Scotland and Northern Island will introduce similar rules.
Scientists have raised the alarm that this variant is “radically different” from what emerged bout of Wuhan, China in late 2019. This could mean that the variant is more resilient to vaccines. Although many questions remain unknown at this early stage. Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting South African officials on Friday to assess the evolving situation in the country.
Scientists say the variant has 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body's cells. This is twice as many mutations as the Delta variant and these mutations are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination.
The new variant, which has been designated a new variant under investigation by the UKHSA, is heavily mutated and the confirmed cases are mostly concentrated in one province in South Africa.
B.1.1.529 can be detected with a normal PCR test. The World Health Organization called a special meeting to discuss the new variant on Friday.