Scientists have sounded the alarm tonight over a new ‘worst ever’ super mutant variant of Covid that will make vaccines at least 40% less effective – forcing flights to be banned from South Africa and Africa. five other countries.
Experts explained earlier how the B.1.1.529 variant has over 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta – which suggest it may be more jab resistant and transmissible than any version before it.
The variant – which could be named “Nu” by the World Health Organization in the coming days – has caused an “exponential” increase in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong and in Botswana, where it is said to have emerged.
In response, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from noon Friday and that the six countries will be added to the red list.
No cases have been detected in the UK so far, but anyone who has returned from South Africa in the past 10 days will be contacted and asked to be tested.
Currently around 500-700 people travel to the UK from South Africa every day, but this figure is expected to increase as the holiday season begins.
Mr Javid said: “The first indication we have of this variant is that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and that the vaccines we currently have may be less effective against it.
“To be clear, we haven’t detected any of these new variants in the UK yet.
“But we’ve always been clear that we’ll take action to protect the progress we’ve made.
“So what we will do is from noon tomorrow we will suspend all flights from six countries in southern Africa and add those countries to the travel red list.
“These countries are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We will ask anyone arriving from these countries from 4 a.m. on Sunday to self-quarantine in hotels.
“If someone arrives earlier, they have to self-isolate at home and have a PCR test on the second and eighth day. If someone has arrived from any of these countries within the past 10 days, we will ask them to take PCR tests.
This graph shows the proportion of cases that were variant B.1.1.529 (blue) and the Indian variant “Delta” (red) over time in South Africa. This suggests the mutant strain could supplant Delta in the province within weeks
The above slide shows the proportion of tests that detected an SGTF mutation, a hallmark of B.1.1.529. This suggests that the Covid variant could quickly spread across the country. The slide was presented at a briefing today hosted by the South African government
The above slide shows the variants detected by province in South Africa since October of last year. This suggests that B.1.1.529 is concentrated in Gauteng province. This was presented today during a South African government briefing
The above shows the test positivity rate – the proportion of tests that detected the virus – in Gauteng province. It reveals that there is a slight increase in cases in the north of the province. It is not clear if this could be motivated by B.1.1.529
The variant has yet to receive the title of ‘variant of concern’ in the UK, but a senior expert from the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) said: ‘This is the worst variant we have seen so far. ‘now”.
Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
The variant has over 30 mutations – about twice as many as the Delta variant – that could potentially make it more transmissible and escape the protection offered by a previous infection or vaccination.
UKHSA experts advised ministers on the matter.
A number of scientists have expressed serious concerns about the variant due to the large number of mutations in the spike protein.
A senior scientist said: “One of our main concerns is that this virus spike protein is so drastically different from the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, that it is of great concern. “
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting with South African officials on Friday to assess developments in the country.
The variant could eventually be given the nickname “Nu” – with the most concerning variants being named after the Greek alphabet.
The original Red List was reduced to zero countries at the end of last month when the remaining seven countries were removed.
No10 had left the door open for the return of the notorious traffic light travel system, with Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps saying last month that hundreds of hotel rooms were still on standby for quarantine.
The UKHSA said it had had extensive discussions with scientists in South Africa about the new variant, but that the situation was “evolving rapidly”.
Although only 100 cases of the new variant have been identified so far, it is already present in three countries, suggesting that it is more widespread than the official tally.
Two cases were detected in Hong Kong – both of which had links to South Africa – three were detected in Botswana and the rest are in South Africa.
But a lack of surveillance on mainland Africa may underestimate the real numbers there, scientists have warned.
Baby cries as mother receives Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Diepsloot township near Johannesburg, South Africa
UK experts have previously called for the reimposition of travel restrictions to prevent the strain from being sown here and to avoid risking a repeat this spring when the Delta variant was imported in large numbers from India.
Zero-Covid scientist Professor Christina Pagel urged ministers to “get ahead now” by immediately re-imposing the travel red list “- which was only removed a few weeks ago.
And Chris Snowdon, an economist normally favoring fewer restrictions, also called for an immediate travel ban.
The government has left the door open for the return of the notorious traffic light travel system, with Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps saying last month that hundreds of hotel rooms were still on standby for quarantine.
MailOnline sounded the alarm about the variant yesterday after British scientists warned it had more than 30 mutations and was the most evolved version of Covid to date. They said it probably appeared in a long-term infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.
The fact that South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV of any country in the world has made its fight against Covid difficult, as people who are immunocompromised can harbor the virus for longer, scientists say.
It comes as daily cases of Covid in Britain have started to stagnate today, official data shows, after weeks of declining deaths and hospitalizations. It was the first time the jump percentage has been below one since November 10.
Professor François Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said the variant could become dominant in South Africa “very quickly”.
When asked if this could soon constitute the majority of cases in South Africa, he told MailOnline: “The numbers [of cases] are very small and there is a lot of uncertainty … but I would say he could become dominant very quickly. ‘
He said it was “plausible” that the variant was more infectious because it “better infected” people with immunity to vaccines or previous infections.
But he said very little is known about the likelihood that a person who catches the variant will be seriously ill and die from the virus. Experts say viruses normally become less virulent over time.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of Covid surveillance in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said the variant has spread rapidly in South Africa.
“In less than two weeks, it now dominates all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa.
“We estimate that 90% of cases in Gauteng (at least 1,000 per day) [are this variant]. ‘