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Britain announced Thursday it was temporarily banning flights from South Africa and five other countries from 1200 GMT on Friday over newly discovered variant of COVID-19.

”Those countries are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana”, said health secretary, Sajid Javid.

“We will be requiring anyone that arrives from those countries from 4am on Sunday to quarantine in hotels.

‘The early indication we have of this variant is it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it.

‘Now, to be clear, we have not detected any of this new variant in the UK at this point in time. But we’ve always been clear that we will take action to protect the progress that we have made.

‘So, what we will be doing is from midday tomorrow we will be suspending all flights from six southern African countries and we will add in those countries to the travel Red List.

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Under new rules, returning British travelers from those destinations would also have to quarantine.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.

It has mutations that are likely to evade the immune response generated both by prior infection and vaccination, and also mutations associated with increased infectivity.

Lab studies are needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations resulting in greatly reduced vaccine efficacy, scientists said.

Officials have advised the government on the need to act swiftly and pre-emptively in case the concerns over the impact of variant are borne out, even though it could take weeks to generate all the information needed about its characteristics.

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Earlier on Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected the new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and were working to understand its potential implications. read more

The variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, the scientists told reporters at a news conference.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.

The UK Health Security Agency said that no cases of the variant had been detected in Britain and they were in contact with South African colleagues over their data.


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