The United Kingdom announced Thursday, November 25, that it would ban entry to travelers from six African countries, after South Africa announced the discovery of a new variant of Covid -19 with multiple mutations.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana would be suspended from noon Friday (13 hours in Paris).
“The first indications we have of this variant are that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and that the vaccines we currently have may be less effective”, added Mr. Javid.
According to him, British scientists are “Very concerned” by this variant, to which South Africa attributes the recent increase in cases recorded in the country and which has also been detected in travelers from Botswana or Hong Kong. However, no case has been recorded in Great Britain.
“We will ask anyone arriving from these countries from 4 am (GMT) Sunday to quarantine themselves in hotels”, said Mr. Javid, adding that those arriving before this date will have to self-isolate and do two PCR tests on the second and eighth days of their confinement. “And if someone has arrived from these countries in the last ten days, we will ask them to do PCR tests”, he added.
This new variant of Covid-19 detected in South Africa, named B.1.1.529, has a number “Extremely high” mutations and “We can see that it has a potential for very rapid spread”, South African virologist Tulio de Oliveira said at an online press conference. His team from the KRISP research institute, backed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, had already discovered, last year, the Beta variant, which is very contagious.
Metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible, until the new variant becomes dominant: this was the case with the Delta variant initially discovered in India, and which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO ), reduced the effectiveness of anti-Covid-19 vaccines against disease transmission to 40%.
At this point, South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new form of the virus. “What concerns us is that this variant may not only have an increased transmission capacity, but also be able to bypass parts of our immune system”said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.
22 cases in South Africa
To date, 22 cases have been reported in the country, mostly affecting young people, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Cases have also been documented in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, in a person returning from a trip to South Africa. WHO said ” to follow closely “ this new variant and must meet on Friday to determine its dangerousness.
Britain has been among the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, with 144,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The number of cases remains high – more than 47,000 in the past 24 hours on Thursday – but more than 80% of people aged 12 and over have received a double injection of the vaccine, and almost 30% have had a third dose.
The UK government has been widely criticized for being slow to tighten travel restrictions at the start of the pandemic, when it kept its borders open as infection rates skyrocketed.
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Covid-19: UK to ban travelers from six African countries due to new variant