UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday announced a temporary suspension of flights from six countries after reports emerged that a new COVID variant with more than 30 mutations is spreading in South Africa. It comes as Variant B.1.1.529 is declared a Variant under Investigation (VuI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). “The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These are potentially biologically significant mutations that may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility. More investigation is required,” UK Health Security Agency said in a statement.
Taking to Twitter, Javid said UKHSA is “investigating a new variant and more data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.” “From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” he said.
“We are taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely,” he added.
This announcement comes after media reports said that a new COVID-19 variant of “serious concern” has been detected in South Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the potentially rapidly spreading COVID strain found in South Africa and Botswana, the Financial Times reported, citing sources.
Earlier, UK media reports said that scientists from the UK had warned of the appearance of a coronavirus strain, which contains 32 mutations, in Botswana. Many of the mutations indicate its high transmissibility and resistance to vaccines, the strain has more changes in the spike protein than all other COVID-19 variants, the Russian news agency reported. The South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases later also confirmed that the new strain had been found in South Africa.