Britain is alarmed by the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 in South Africa

  • Vaccines may be less effective against the new alternative
  • The variant has twice the number of mutations than delta
  • Britain bans flights from six African countries
  • Spike Protein B.1.1.529 Significantly Different

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Thursday it was concerned that a new type of coronavirus identified in South Africa could make vaccines less effective and jeopardize efforts to combat the epidemic.

The UK’s Health Security Agency said the variant, called B.1.1.529, contains a spike protein that is significantly different from the protein in the original coronavirus on which COVID-19 vaccines are based.

UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harris said: “This is the most significant alternative we have encountered to date, and urgent research is under way to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine susceptibility.”

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The alternative was first outlined at the beginning of this week, but Britain was quick to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighboring countries, working much more quickly than the currently prevailing delta formula.

“What we do know is that there are a large number of mutations, possibly twice the number of mutations that we saw in the delta variant,” Health Minister Sajid Javid told broadcasters.

“This would suggest that it may be more transmissible and that the current vaccines we have may be less effective.”

Britain announced a temporary ban on flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from 1200 GMT on Friday, and that British travelers returning from those destinations will be forced to quarantine.

A social distancing sign appears amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Leicester, Britain, May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Javid said more data on the alternative was needed, but the travel restrictions were necessary as a precaution.

The scientists said lab studies are needed to assess the potential for mutations to lead to a significant reduction in vaccine efficacy.

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

The variant was also found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but Britain’s Health Security Agency said no cases had been detected in Britain.

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said B.1.1.529 has an “unprecedented” number of mutations in the spike protein and has been driving a recent rapid increase in case numbers in South Africa.

“The government’s move to restrict travel with South Africa is wise,” he said.

“However, we do not yet have reliable estimates of the extent to which B.1.1.529 might be either more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to provide an evidence-based assessment of its risk poses.”

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(Reporting by Alistair Smoot and William Schomberg) Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Simao

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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