UK ‘must be ready’ for rule changes with new variant of Covid that risks blunting vaccines

A new variant of the coronavirus is raising concerns in the UK and abroad and senior scientists have said it will “almost certainly” blunt the effectiveness of vaccines as the UK bans travel from six countries

A morgue attendant in Johannesburg, South Africa
A morgue attendant in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the new variant is believed to have originated

New Covid The variant will “almost certainly” make vaccines less effective and is the most “complex” and “worrisome” ever, senior scientists have warned.

The B.1.1.529 variant has only been detected in relatively small numbers in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong so far, but has raised concern in Britain and abroad. This morning it was revealed that there were suspected cases in Belgium.

Scientists are concerned about the high number of variants mutation which could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.

Professor James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, addressing BBC Radio 4’s Today program said the new variant will “almost certainly” make the vaccine less effective.

He added: “It has mutations compatible with the Delta variant, which spreads faster, but the transmissibility and spread is not as straightforward as this amino acid does this or that, it’s more like a team on them. things.

Are you in a hurry to get back to the UK before the latest changes take place? E-mail .

Botswana is one of three countries where the variant has been detected so far


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“So sometimes you can have the mutations all together, but they won’t be effective as a team.

“It looks like it’s spreading faster, but we don’t know. “

Also on the program, Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘The first review shows he has a variety of different mutations, he has 30 different mutations that seem relevant, that is. double what we had. in Delta.

“And if you look at these mutations as mutations that increase infectivity, mutations that elude the immune response, both vaccines and natural immunity, mutations that increase transmissibility, that’s a very complex, there are new ones that we’ve never seen before, so we don’t know how they’ll interact in common.

“So all of that makes for a pretty complex and difficult variant and I think we’ll have to learn a lot more about it before we can say for sure that this is certainly the most complex variant before.”

She added: “This is the most disturbing we have seen.”

While the two scientists sounded the alarm bells about the variant, they disagreed on what conclusions they could already draw from it, underscoring the need for more data and research on it. .

It comes amid warnings from government advisers that a new lockdown is possible.

Professor Adam Finn, member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said Britain “must be prepared” for the possibility of further restrictions in light of the new variant.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “On the one hand, I don’t want to cause unnecessary anxiety in people, but on the other hand, I think we all have to be prepared for the possibility of a change of restrictions. “

“Now we have to wait and see what kind of threat this new variant may pose. If we’re lucky, it won’t be serious, but it could be very serious. “

The new variant has 30 different mutations, double the number that the Delta variant had


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Professor Finn said sequencing was underway in the UK to determine if any cases had already been imported.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the travel ban was meant to “buy time” so scientists have time to establish how well vaccines and other Covid treatments are working against it.

“It is of course inevitable that he will go around the world if he does,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, adding that the new travel rules would “not prevent him from doing so. to come here”.

There have been nearly 100 confirmed cases in South Africa, but the country’s health minister believes there are many more due to an increase in cases in Gauteng province.

No cases have yet been identified in the UK, but hundreds of people who have recently traveled from South Africa are being contacted and asked for a PCR test.

It comes after the UK banned flights from six African countries, including South Africa.

The temporary ban, which was announced Thursday and will go into effect at midnight Friday, affected South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

South Africa said the UK ban “appeared to have been rushed” as the World Health Organization has yet to give advice on next steps.

Naledi Pandor, South African Foreign Minister, said in a statement: “Our immediate concern is the damage this decision will cause to both tourism industries and businesses in both countries. “

He added that South Africa will try to dialogue with the British authorities to get them to reconsider the decision.

The country had previously experienced a lull in Covid cases after a third wave until last week, when the number of infections began to rise.

On Thursday, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 2,465 new cases, nearly double the previous day.

Although the NICD has not linked the resurgence to the new variant, local scientists have admitted that this is the suspected cause.

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