- by cnn
- 05 Jun 2023
Flights from southern Africa will be banned, with six countries placed under England's red list travel restrictions, after scientists raised the alarm over what is feared to be the worst Covid-19 variant yet identified.
Whitehall sources said the B.1.1.529 variant, which is feared to be more transmissible and has the potential to evade immunity, posed "a potentially significant threat to the vaccine programme which we have to protect at all costs".
Hundreds of people who have recently returned from South Africa, where the variant was detected, and neighbouring countries are expected to be tracked down and offered tests in an effort to avoid the new variant entering the UK.
The variant, which was identified on Tuesday, initially caused concern because it carries an "extremely high number" of mutations meaning that the spike protein looks different from the version that vaccines were designed to target. The latest data, presented by South African scientists on Thursday, revealed that the variant also appears to be more transmissible and is already present in provinces throughout the country.
As well as placing South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe on England's travel red list and banning flights from Friday, officials are reviewing a number of travel measures including whether there should be a limited reintroduction of the use of PCR tests for arrivals. Travellers who test positive will be strongly encouraged to take a PCR so that their results can be sequenced to test for variants. The Scottish government later confirmed all arrivals from the six countries will be required to self-isolate and take two PCR tests from midday on Friday, while anyone arriving after 4am on Saturday will need to stay at a managed quarantine hotel. There are no direct flights from any of the countries into Scotland.
Israel also announced it will ban its citizens from travelling to southern Africa - covering the same six countries as well as Mozambique - and barring the entry of foreign travellers from the region.
No cases of the new variant have been detected in the UK.
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