SOUTH Africa is among six countries set to be slapped with a travel ban in a desperate bid to halt the arrival of a terrifying new Covid strain.
Senior Government scientists said the super-mutant was the “worst variant they have seen so far” – with vaccines expected to be at least a third less effective against it.
A new strain is running rampant across South Africa
Passengers arrive at Heathrow airport
Experts warn the strain is behind an explosion of new cases in South Africa, with some regions seeing a six-fold rise in infections in a matter of days.
Flights from South Africa as well Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday tommorow and all six countries will be added to the red list, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
Mr Javid said the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and added “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”
Officials are also desperately trying to trace thousands who have arrived from South Africa in the past ten days.
Scientists said the new strain was unlikely to be in the UK, but with up to 700 people flying in a day, they could not rule it out.
Currently called B.1.1.529, the bug has 32 mutations – twice as many as the delta variant.
As well as South Africa, it has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.
The World Health Organisation will meet today [Fri] to decide whether to classify the bug as an imminent threat.
Government scientists were last night spooked by the new strain, saying their main worry is the virus spike protein is “dramatically different” to the original Covid virus.
It means the vaccines and blockbuster new drugs will struggle to neutralise it – with optimistic estimates it will reduce efficacy by around a third.
WHO experts are likely to name the variant “Nu”, the next letter in the Greek alphabet, when they meet to discuss it.
This new variant seems to spread very quick
Dr Tulio de Oliveira
Dr Tulio de Oliveira, a top Covid tracker in South Africa, said it was “of great concern” and has quickly become the dominant strain.
He said: “This new variant seems to spread very quick.
“In less than two weeks it now dominates all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa.
“The new variant is now at 75 per cent of the last genomes and is soon to reach 100 per cent.”
At least 77 cases have been spotted in the country but many more have not been checked.
Virus scientists in the UK said it was the most worried they had been since Delta emerged.
They called for ministers to act immediately by stopping travel from southern Africa and developing new vaccines to tackle some of the mutations.
A nurse performs a Covid test in Richmond, Johannesburg
More to follow…
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