LONDON, Nov 25, (Asia Free Press) – The United Kingdom has concerned about a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa that might make vaccines less effective and endanger efforts to fight the pandemic, according to Reuters’ sources.
The UK Health Security Agency said the variant, called B.1.1.529, has a spike protein that was dramatically different from the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based-on.
“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date, and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,” UKHSA Chief Executive Jenny Harries said to media officials in London.
This new variant of COVID-19 was first identified at the start of this week, but Britain rushed to introduce travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighbouring countries, acting much more smoothly than with the currently dominant Delta variant.
Britain officials announced it was temporarily banning flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from 1200 GMT on Friday and that returning British travellers from those destinations would have to quarantine, according to Reuters.
“More data on the variant was needed, but the travel restrictions were necessary as a precaution”, the HAS officials told media.
Scientists said lab studies were needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations resulting in significantly reduced vaccine efficacy.
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 implications.
According to media reports, the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the UK Health Security Agency said no cases had been detected in Britain.