New Covid variant forces UK to block six nations

All flights would be suspended from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana to help stop the spread of the variant, B.1.1.529, that has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid.Virologists believe it is an offshoot of an older variant called B.1.1, which was first spotted in Botswana where three cases have now been sequenced. “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,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.But he said British scientists were “deeply concerned” and as a precaution a decision had been to suspend all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana from Friday.After 4am on Sunday, new arrivals in the UK will be required to quarantine in hotels.Ewan Birney, the deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory said travel bans were needed while the variant was investigated – before it was too late.He told The Guardian “code red” travel restrictions were needed. “What we’ve learnt from the other situations like this – some have turned out OK and some haven’t – is that while we’re [investigating] you have to be reasonably paranoid,” he said.NED-3952-Covid-19-VariantsIsrael also announced it will ban its citizens from travelling to southern Africa – covering the same six countries and Mozambique.Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about the new variant on Friday.“I am advised that is under investigation and not a variant of concern. But that can change. We monitor all of these variants. We note the responses that are made by other countries and we consider those inreal-time.“What is more important is the best protection against any variants, including, and those that are present, is vaccination. And having those vaccinations,’ Mr Morrison said.The new variant is thought to be the main cause of a massive increase in cases in the South Africa province of Gauteng, where 90 per cent of cases are likely the new variant, according to a review of PCR tests.About 50 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana – however it may already be present throughout South Africa, that has seen a surge in cases nationally.Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College, posted details of the new variant, noting it was the first time he had seen two particular mutations in one variant. “Export to Asia implies this might be more widespread than sequences alone would imply,” he tweeted.“Also the extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern (predicted escape from most known monoclonal antibodies).“Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled, however it very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile (would take a guess that this would be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about).”Experts say new variants are found fairly often, and mostly don’t spread over a cluster of cases. They can also quickly die out if they present in a country with a more dominant variant. Covid-19 Incident Director at the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Meera Chand, told the Sun: “In partnership with scientific bodies across the globe, is constantly monitoring the status of SARS-CoV-2 variants as they emerge and develop worldwide.“As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations.“Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.”Why is B.1.1.529 a concern?It has a large number of mutations that mean it could beat the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.How does it compare to other variants?Some scientists say it is the worst to emerge, and has double the mutations that Delta has.What could happen next?Scientists are working to learn more about the variant, including if it really is more transmissible and if it can beat the vaccines.NED-2170 How coronavirus [email protected]

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