South Africa and five other countries will be added to England’s red list, a month after the most stringent travel restrictions were lifted.
The return of the red list comes as the B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant was detected in South Africa and Botswana.
Travellers arriving from South Africa will now have to quarantine on arrival in the UK, along with five other southern African nations.
Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, has said that six countries will be added to the red list at 12:00GMT on Friday 26 November. He also added that flights would be temporarily banned between these nations and the UK.
The countries added to the red list are:
- South Africa
“The first indications we have of this variant are that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and that the vaccines we currently have may be less effective,” says Javid.
According to him, British scientists are “very concerned” by this variant.
“We will ask anyone arriving from these countries from 4 a.m. on Sunday to quarantine themselves in hotels,” Javid said, adding that those arriving before that date will have to self-isolate and do two PCR tests on the second and eighth day of their confinement.
“And if someone has arrived from these countries in the last ten days, we will ask them to do PCR tests,” he adds.
The most worrying variant yet
Experts have said that the B.1.1.529 variant could be the most lethal and worrying yet. This is because of its “awful spike mutation profile”, which scientists fear could help it evade immunity. Early reports suggest it is capable of reducing vaccine efficiency to just 30 per cent.
There are already nearly 59 identified cases of the variant in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana – which the World Health Organization is expected to name ‘Nu’ – but none have been reported in the UK.
It’s believed that officials will now be hoping to track down hundreds of people who have arrived in the UK from South Africa over the past week, in an attempt to avoid introducing the new strain.
More than 500 passengers arrive in the UK from South Africa every day.
From 12:00 tomorrow (Friday), non-UK and Irish residents will not be allowed to enter England if they have been in any of the six banned countries in the past 10 days.
Any British or Irish resident entering England after 04:00 on Sunday must quarantine in a hotel, with those returning between Friday and Sunday asked to isolate at home.
Anyone who has returned in the last 10 days from the six listed countries is going to be asked to take a PCR test by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Britain has been among the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, with 144,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The number of cases remains high – more than 47,000 in the past 24 hours on Thursday – but more than 80 per cent of people aged 12 and over have received a double injection of the vaccine, and almost 30 per cent have had a third dose.
The UK government has been widely criticized for being slow to tighten travel restrictions at the start of the pandemic, when it kept its borders open as infection rates skyrocketed.