Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE United Kingdom (UK) has placed Zimbabwe and six other Sadc countries back on its red list of travel restrictions after a surge in cases of a heavily mutated coronavirus variant caused alarm among global health officials.
In a statement posted on the UK government website, travellers returning from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini will be forced to quarantine for 10 days at a government facility from today.
Direct flights from the six countries will be banned from midday until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am on Sunday.
The rule change follows mounting concern by scientists over the B.1.1.529 Sars-Cov-2 variant’s ability to evade vaccines and transmit faster than the Delta variant.
The strain, first identified in Botswana, is believed to be behind a resurgence in Covid cases in South Africa over the past week.
Posting on his Twitter page, UK Health and Social Care Secretary Mr Sajid Javid said the UK Health Security Agency was “investigating a new variant, saying more data is needed but we’re taking precautions now”.
He said from noon today six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.
“The UK Health Security Agency is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow (today) six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” he posted.
The UK government said it is taking decisive precautionary action against a new Covid-19 variant by introducing travel restrictions on arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia from midday.
It comes as Variant B.1.1.529 is declared a Variant under Investigation (VuI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will today hold an emergency meeting to discuss the new variant, where it is expected to designate the strain a “variant of interest”.
The new Covid-19 variant has been detected in the neighbouring South Africa and Botswana which scientists have said has low frequency as they continue to assess its potential impact.
The B.1.1.529 strain, an offshoot of an old variant called B.1.1, has 32 spike mutations and has also been found in Hong Kong.
The person who tested positive to the new variant in Hong Kong had recently travelled to South Africa.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified the B.1.1.529 variant as a variant under monitoring (VUM).
A variant receives this label when it has genetic changes that are believed to affect the virus’ characteristics, the WHO notes. A VUM presents some indication that it may pose a future [email protected]