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Coronvirus: UK travel restrictions on new variant

LONDON – Britain said on Thursday it was concerned about a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa that could make vaccines less effective and bring about progress made worldwide in against the pandemic.

The variant – known as B.1.1.529 – has a mutated protein that is quite different from the protein in the original coronavirus on which the COVID-19 vaccine is based, the UK Health Security Agency said.

Officials describe the variant with twice as many mutations as the currently dominant Delta variant, as “the worst variant”.

It was only identified for the first time earlier in the week but Britain hastily introduced travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighboring countries, acting much more quickly than previous variants.

“What we do know is that there is a significant number of mutations, perhaps twice the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant,” Health Minister Sajid Javid told broadcasters.

“And that suggests that it may be more transmissible and that the current vaccines we have may also be less effective.”

Britain announced a temporary ban on flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from 1200 GMT on Friday, and British travelers returning from those destinations will have to quarantine.

Javid says more data is needed but travel restrictions are needed as a precaution, as scientists say laboratory studies are needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations leading to the effect. vaccine is significantly reduced.

Officials have advised the government of the need to act quickly and prepare in advance in the event of concerns about the impact of variation, although it could take weeks to generate all of the information. essential for its characteristics.

Earlier, on Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected the new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and were working to understand its potential effects.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the UK Health Security Service says no cases of the variant have been detected in the UK.

“Early evidence from genomic surveillance in South Africa suggests that B.1.1.529 is a serious cause for concern,” said Ewan Birney, Deputy Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. know.

“We know that early action is much better than late action. It’s possible that this variant isn’t as big of a threat as Alpha and Delta, but the potential consequences of not acting on its potential could be. serious.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout and William Schomberg; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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