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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Southern African countries are included in the UK travel red list due to virus variants

The United Kingdom will put six southern African countries back on its red list of travel restrictions. The previously severely mutated variants of the coronavirus have significantly increased, which has aroused the vigilance of global health officials.

Government officials said that travelers returning from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini will be quarantined in government facilities for 10 days starting at noon on Friday.

A tourism executive said that direct flights from southern African countries have been temporarily banned because the infrastructure to support hotel isolation is not yet ready. The person familiar with the matter said that the government’s goal is to prepare dedicated arrival terminals and hotels to receive redlisted passengers starting Monday.

The Red List, which once included more than 50 countries, was suspended on November 1.

After scientists discovered the ability of the B.1.1.529 Sars-Cov-2 variant to evade vaccines and spread faster than the Delta variant, the rules changed. The strain was first discovered in Botswana and is believed to be the cause of the return of new coronavirus cases in South Africa in the past week.

South Africa and other countries in the region only left the red list before the UK in October. At the beginning of this year, the region implemented the Beta version of travel restrictions for the first time, which was later replaced by Delta.

The new Red List may dash South Africa’s hopes of saving this year’s summer tourist season, which is vital to the economy. South African business leaders and officials have long believed that they were punished for the country’s relatively advanced genome monitoring capabilities.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid (Sajid Javid) said that the UK Health Security Agency “is investigating a new variant. More data is needed, but we are now taking preventive measures.”

He said in a tweet that starting at noon tomorrow, “six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and British passengers must be isolated”.

The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss this new variant, which was first discovered on Tuesday, and it is expected that the strain will be designated as an “variant of interest.” According to Haaretz, earlier on Thursday, Israel banned travelers from South Africa and neighboring countries.

This variant is described as the most worrying variant of coronavirus that researchers have encountered. Unconfirmed data seems to indicate that it is spreading faster in South Africa than previously thought, and the rate of positive test results in South Africa has increased significantly in the past few weeks.

The genomes of at least 59 variants mainly from South Africa have been sequenced. However, local health officials told the Financial Times that early PCR results indicated that 90% of the 1,100 new cases in the Gauteng area of ​​South Africa (including Johannesburg) on ​​Wednesday were caused by the new variant.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of the South African Epidemic Response and Innovation Center, told the Financial Times that he was “worried” by the pressure.

De Oliveira said that there are some features in the new variant that were previously associated with high infectivity. “The key question to answer is what exactly is the impact on the vaccine,” he added.

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that this new variant “has many worrying mutations in the spike protein.” The WHO said in a statement: “Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations, and further research is needed and will be carried out.”

Professor Christina Page, a member of the Independent Sage Scientific Advisory Panel, welcomed the decision of the British government.

“We are currently ahead of [this variant] In the UK,” she said. “While we learn more, taking action now is our best opportunity to prevent imports. “

Ivan Bernie, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, called for international assistance for South Africa to fight this new strain. “The international community should ship medicines and vaccines to South Africa as soon as possible,” Bernie said.

South Africa was finally included in the UK’s travel red list after a surge in cases of the Beta variant earlier this year, which has shown some resistance to the vaccine.

Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne and Philip Georgiadis

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