*****This is a quickly evolving story, with many countries now having either suspended flights or introduced travel restrictions from southern African nations.*****
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has added six African countries to the “red list”, amid concerns over new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529.
South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia will be added to the list from 1200 today (November 26). All six countries have previously been on the red list.
Direct commercial and private flights from these destinations have been temporarily banned until Sunday November 28, to allow time for hotel quarantine arrangements to be set up.
From today non-UK and Irish residents who have been in these countries in the previous ten days will be refused entry into England.
UK and Irish residents arriving between now and 0400 on Sunday will be required to quarantine at home, after which point all arrivals will be required to book and pay for ten days of quarantine in a government-approved hotel.
The UKHSA said that the new variant under investigation “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,” said the Agency, adding that “more investigation is required”.
The red list has effectively been dormant since the start of November, when the final seven countries were removed from the list.
But the government said at the time that it would retain the category as a precautionary measure, and would add countries and territories to it “if needed, as the UK’s first line of defence”.
Commenting on the news Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said:
“As part of our close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant, which UKHSA has designated a Variant under Investigation.
“We are taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely.
“I want to pay tribute to our world-leading scientists who are working constantly to keep our country safe, and I urge everyone to keep doing their bit by the getting the jab and following public health guidance.”