South Africa could be on a new red travel list as early as TOMORROW as No. 10 warns of the super mutant Botswana Covid variant that has caused an ‘exponential’ rise in infections and could make current vaccines at least 40 percent less effective
- UK Health Security Agency said B.1.1,529 has more than 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in a variant
- Combination of strains suggests vaccine could be more resistant and transmissible than any previous version
- Caused an ‘exponential’ rise in cases in South Africa, already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong
South Africa could be placed on the red travel list tomorrow after No10 was warned that a new Covid variant was spreading rapidly, the most worrisome strain ever seen.
The UK Health Security Agency said B.1.1,529 has more than 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta – suggesting the vaccine could be more resistant and transmissible than any version.
It has led to an ‘exponential’ rise in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong and Botswana, where it is believed to have originated.
UK government scientists suggested it could at best make current vaccines at least 40 percent less effective at preventing infection.
It’s unclear what impact the variant — which could be dubbed ‘Now’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days — will have on protection against serious illness, hospitalization or death.
Ministers were convened tonight for an emergency meeting of the Covid Operations Cabinet Committee, chaired by Cabinet Office Minister Steven Barclay, to discuss how to close Britain’s borders to travelers from Africa.
About 700 travelers fly to the UK from South Africa every day and an estimated 10,000 have returned since the variant was first spotted on November 11 in Botswana.
No cases have been discovered in the UK so far, but anyone who has returned from South Africa in the past 10 days will be contacted and asked to take a test.
This graph shows the number of cases that were the B.1.1,529 variant (blue) and the Indian ‘Delta’ variant (red) in South Africa over time. It suggests the mutated strain could surpass Delta in the province within weeks
The original Red List was reduced to zero countries late last month when the remaining seven countries on it were removed.
No10 has left the door open to bring back the infamous traffic light travel system, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying hundreds of hotel rooms were still on standby for quarantine last month.
The UKHSA said it had had extensive talks with scientists in South Africa about the new variant, but the situation is evolving “fast.”
Although only 100 cases of the new variant have been identified so far, it is already in three countries, suggesting it is more widespread than the official count.
Two cases have been discovered in Hong Kong – both of which had ties to South Africa – three have been picked up in Botswana and the rest are in South Africa.
But a lack of surveillance over continental Africa could underestimate the true numbers there, scientists warned.
UK experts say it will be two to eight weeks before they can study the variant in enough detail to find out how contagious or vaccine resistant it is.
Nationally, infections in South Africa have increased tenfold from 100 a day to 1,100 after the variant was first discovered in neighboring Botswana on Nov. 11.
British government scientists believe it can easily infect previously infected patients as South Africa has a very high natural immunity.
Only 41 percent of adults have received at least a single dose of vaccine, while 35 percent have been fully vaccinated.
In a hastily organized press conference today, the South African government revealed that the variant had officially been spotted in three provinces, but warned it was likely already in all nine.