A UK-wide search for passengers who came into Britain from South Africa, possibly bringing the new B.1.1.529 variant of Coronavirus with them, has begun.
Alarm bells started ringing last night, when Health Minister Sajid Javid confirmed that six African countries were being added to the Red travel list, due to the dangerousness of the new variant – known as the “nu” variant.
Anyone coming from South Africa and its surrounding countries Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be forced to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
There are worries that the new variant is more transmissible and that the current vaccines are less effective in fighting it.
The long-term worry is that, should this variant spread out of control, then the country will be plunged back into the depths of a UK-wide lockdown just before Christmas.
Mr Sajid said: “Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant.
“I'm concerned, of course, that's one of the reasons we have taken this action.
“We've got plans in place, as people know, for the spread of this infection here in the UK and we have contingency plans — the so-called Plan B.
“This is about being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders.”
Despite there being hundreds upon hundreds of new variations of the Covid virus detected on a regular basis, experts state that this specific strain has around 32 different mutations, and is thought to be far worse than the Delta strain which caught hold of the UK late last year.
Although no cases of the variant have actually been detected here, the government is keen on stopping it before it does happen.
There are only around 59 official cases of the variant in the world, so far, but that could be down to it being less easier to trace.
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Of those, three were in Botswana, two were in Hong Kong among people who had travelled from South Africa, and the rest were confirmed in South Africa.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) group, said: “The B.1.1.529 variant has an unprecedented number of mutations in the spike protein gene, the protein which is the target of most vaccines.
“There is therefore a concern that this variant may have a greater potential to escape prior immunity than previous variants.
“However, we do not yet have reliable estimates of the extent to which B.1.1.529 might be either more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to be able to provide an evidence-based assessment of the risk it poses.”
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