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South Africa is back on Britain’s ‘red list’ as new COVID variant emerges

newly identified coronavirus variant that has spread in South Africa is the most concerning British health officials have seen as it has double the number of mutations of the Delta variant including some associated with evading immune response.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.

It has mutations that are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination, and also mutations associated with increased infectivity.

Health Minister Sajid Javid confirmed, during a press conference on Friday morning, the UK Health Security Agency is investigating the “deeply concerning” variant.

Mr Javid said the new strain “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”

“Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant. I’m concerned, of course, that’s one of the reasons we have taken this action today,” he added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to concerns of the new strain during a press conference in Adelaide on Friday, stating it is being closely monitored.

“At present, there are many variants, I should stress,” Mr Morrison said.

“I am advised it is still under investigation and not a variant of concern, but that can change.

“We monitor all of these variants and we note the responses that are made by other countries and we consider those in real-time.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Micro-X in Adelaide, Friday, November 26, 2021.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Micro-X in Adelaide, Friday, November 26, 2021. Credit: MATT TURNER/AAPIMAGE

Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt told the media on Friday Australia was well prepared if the advice regarding the new strain changed.

“I have been briefed this morning by those investigating and reviewing the South African variant and at this stage, the information we have is that it has the potential to become a new variant,” Mr Hunt said.

“The advice at the moment is to engage with international communities, but we are well prepared and able to act quickly if the advice changes.

“And of course we have taken into account the fact that double vaccinated Australians are returning subject to the current border restrictions. There are no changes to those restrictions at this point in time.”

A health worker in South Africa prepares a COVID vaccine dose.
Lab studies are needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations resulting in greatly reduced vaccine efficacy, scientists said. Credit: AP

Lab studies are needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations resulting in greatly reduced vaccine efficacy, scientists said.

Earlier on Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected the new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and were working to understand its potential implications.

The variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, the scientists told reporters at a news conference.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.

The UK Health Security Agency said that no cases of the variant had been detected in Britain and they were in contact with South African colleagues over their data.

Watch UK Health Minister Sajid Javid provide an update in the video below

Scientists ‘deeply concerned’ over new Covid variant
Scientists ‘deeply concerned’ over new Covid variant

As a result of the infections, Britain will place South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini under red list travel restrictions.

The variant posed “a potentially significant threat to the vaccine program which we have to protect at all costs,” a government source said.

Israel announced on Thursday it was barring its citizens from travelling to southern Africa and banning the entry of foreigners from the region.

South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini were added to Israel’s “red”, or highest-risk, travel list that reflects coronavirus infection rates overseas.

Israelis returning home from those countries would be required to spend between seven and 14 days in a quarantine hotel after arrival.

The WHO is holding a special meeting to discuss the variant and if it is determined to be a major new variant it will be given the Greek alphabetic symbol of ‘NU’.



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