Britain suspends flights to six African countries as new Covid variant raises alarm

UK Health Minister Sajid Javid speaks at a press conference in Downing Street on 20 October 2021 in London, England.

Toby Melville | WPA Pool | News from Getty Images

The United Kingdom is temporarily suspending flights from six countries as a new Covid variant with more than 30 mutations spread across South Africa.

Sajid Javid, the UK’s Foreign Secretary for Health and Social Care, made the announcement just hours after the World Health Organization briefing on the new variant. The organization convened a special meeting on Friday to further study the variant, which has been discovered in a small number in South Africa.

“More data is needed, but we are taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow, six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned and British travelers will be quarantined,” Javid wrote on Twitter.

In addition to South Africa, the countries Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana are covered by the new restrictions, according to The Guardian.

The World Health Organization is holding a special meeting on Friday to discuss what the new variant could mean for vaccines and treatments, officials said Thursday.

The variant, called B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa in a small number, according to the WHO. The variant has spread rapidly through Gauteng province, which contains the country’s largest city Johannesburg.

The variant has also been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said during the briefing.

“We do not know much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that having so many mutations can have an impact on how the virus behaves. , and it may affect how the virus behaves. ” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director at Covid-19, said in a Q&A that was livestreamed on the organization’s social media channels.

The newly discovered variant arrives as infection levels remain high in countries around the world. In Europe, Austria and Italy have in recent days announced new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

South African scientists have discovered more than 30 mutations in the new variant, raising concerns that it might be better able to avoid the antibody protection created by vaccines and previous infections.

Countries have used restrictions on flights or total travel as a tool to slow the spread of Covid since the early days of the pandemic. USA only lifted its travel ban from 33 countries, including the UK, earlier this month.

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