The United Kingdom announced Thursday, November 25, that it would ban entry to travelers from six African countries, after South Africa announced the discovery of a new variant of Covid -19 with multiple mutations.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana would be suspended from noon Friday (13 hours in Paris).
This new variant of Covid-19 detected in South Africa, the variant B.1.1.529, presents a number « Extremely high » mutations and « We can see that it has a potential for very rapid spread », South African virologist Tulio de Oliveira said at an online press conference. His team at the KRISP research institute, backed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, had already discovered, last year, the Beta variant, which is very contagious.
Metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible, to the point of making the variant dominant: this was the case with the Delta variant initially discovered in India, and which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has reduces the effectiveness of anti-Covid-19 vaccines against disease transmission to 40%.
At this point, South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new form of the virus. « What concerns us is that this variant may not only have an increased transmission capacity, but also be able to bypass parts of our immune system »said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.
To date, 22 cases have been reported, mostly affecting young people, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Cases have also been reported in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, on a person returning from a trip to South Africa.
WHO said » to follow closely « this new variant and must meet on Friday to determine its dangerousness.