Covid-19: What is the new South Africa variant and what are the new Covid-19 travel restrictions?

A NEW and heavily mutated Covid-19 variant has been detected in South Africa.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 12:20 pm

Scientists have said that the latest variant is the most mutated so far.

There have been 77 confirmed cases of the variant in the Gauteng province of South Africa as well as four cases in Botswana and one in Hong Kong, which has been traced back to South Africa.

Experts believe that the number of cases for this variant could be higher due to spread.

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These six countries have now been added to the UK travel red list due to a new Covid-19 variant.

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Due to mutations of the original Covid-19 strain that was found in Wuhan, vaccines may not be as effective towards the new variant.

The UK has introduced new travel rules to protect against the new variant after removing all countries from the red list on November 1 this year.

Here is everything you need to know about the latest Covid-19 variant and the new travel restrictions:

What is the new variant from South Africa?

The new variant has been named B.1.1.529 but is expected to receive a Greek name, similar to the Delta and Alpha variants, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) today.

This mutation has a few key differences in comparison to the other variants and early tests have made it clear that it has been mutated enough to potentially be less affected by the Covid-19 vaccine.

It is not yet known whether B.1.1.529 is more dangerous or infectious than previous variants but it is likely to have come from a singular patient whose immune system was unable to fight the virus.

Scientists have been unable to clarify whether the new variant is more resistant to vaccines due to the vaccine rate amongst adults in South Africa currently sitting at 48 per cent.

Seven university scientists in South Africa are currently studying the variant, with 100 genomes of it to test so far.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira took to social media platform Twitter to discuss the variant.

He said: ‘The world should provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it,'

'By protecting and supporting it, we will protect the world! A plea for billionaires and financial institutions.'

The new variant has 30 mutations, which is twice as many as the Alpha and Delta variants.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that the variant is the 'worst one we've seen so far’ due to the spike protein being 'dramatically' different from the first strain of Covid-19.

Spike proteins are what viruses use to invade human cells and some vaccines work by recognising the spikes in the body and neutralising them.

It has also been confirmed that the new variant can be detected with a normal PCR test.

What are the new UK travel restrictions?

UK experts have called the B.1.1529 variant the ‘worst one we've seen so far’ and the UK government has brought back travel restrictions.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: ‘@UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we're taking precautions now. Six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.’

The countries that have been added to the list include South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

Flights will be suspended from midday today until 4am on Sunday.

From Sunday onwards, new arrivals to the UK will be required to quarantine in hotels.

No cases of the variant have been discovered yet in the UK but anyone who has travelled from one of these countries in the last 10 days will be invited to take a Covid-19 test.

For more information, please see the gov.uk website.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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