UK suspends flights to six African countries as new Covid variant raises concerns

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

Toby Melville | WPA Pool | Getty Images News

The UK is temporarily suspending flights from six countries as a new variant of Covid with more than 30 mutations spreads in South Africa.

Sajid Javid, UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Affairs, made the announcement a few hours after the World Health Organization briefed on the new option. The organization called a special meeting on Friday to further explore this variant, which has been found in small numbers in South Africa.

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

In addition to South Africa, the new restrictions include the countries of Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana, according to a statement from the UK health, transport and safety agencies.

Officials said Thursday that WHO is holding a special meeting on Friday to discuss what the new option might mean for vaccines and treatments.

According to the WHO, the variant, dubbed B.1.1.529, was found in South Africa in small numbers. The variant quickly spread throughout the province of Gauteng, where the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, is located.

This variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, South African Health Minister Joe Fahla said during a briefing.

“We don’t know much about it yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the problem is that when you have so many mutations, it can affect the behavior of the virus, “Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said in response to questions that were broadcast live on channels organizations in social networks.

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

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

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

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