South Africa will be placed on the red list as experts say a new alternative to Covid is ‘the worst we’ve seen so far’
Health Minister Sajid Javid said that flights from the main tourist destination would be suspended from midday on Friday.
in a tweetHe said: “UKHSA [the UK Health Security Agency] Searches in a new variable. 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 travelers in the UK must quarantine.
Passengers of British Airways flight BA55 from London Heathrow to Johannesburg departed at 7.45pm, an hour before the announcement.
They will learn on arrival that they will need to find an alternative route back to the UK, and must go into hotel quarantine on their return at a cost of over £2,000.
Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will also be added to the red list. Nobody has direct links with the United Kingdom.
UK scientists sounded the alarm on Thursday evening over Variant B.1.1.529, which has the ability to evade immunity accumulated by vaccination or previous infection.
While no cases have been found in Britain, officials have raised concerns about the rapid rise in cases in South Africa.
Currently, around 500-700 people travel to the UK from South Africa every day, but this number is expected to rise as the festive period begins.
The variant has yet to be given the title of ‘alarming variant’ in the UK, but a senior UKHSA (UKHSA) expert said: “This is the worst variant we’ve seen so far”.
Only 59 confirmed cases were identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
The variant contains more than 30 mutations – about twice as many as delta variants – which could make it more transmissible and avoid the protection offered by previous infection or vaccination.
The UK government’s announcement was met with despair by the travel industry, as it reflects a ban on flights to South Africa imposed nearly a year ago over fears of what has become known as Alternative Beta.
Paul Charles, CEO of PC Agency, said: “Once again, the government is holding back from broad country measures rather than assessing individual risks.
There is currently no evidence that fully stabbed citizens are at risk from this apparent new alternative. So it seems like a strange step back.”
South Africa was effectively off-limits to British travelers for about a year. It was removed from the red list last month.