A new coronavirus variant has been identified in Botswana and South Africa.
Dubbed B.1.1.529, it has many mutations, concerning scientists and the World Health Organization.
The UK instituted travel restrictions on Thursday for six African countries following the news.
The United Kingdom is adding six African countries to its "red" travel list and is temporarily suspending flights over concerns about a new coronavirus variant.
Sajid Javid, the UK secretary of state for health and social care, made the announcement Thursday soon after the World Health Organization gave a briefing about the variant, dubbed B.1.1.529. It was initially identified in Botswana. Cases have sprung up there and in South Africa.
South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe are now set to enter the UK's red list on Friday, restricting travel from them.
Javid said that the variant hadn't been detected in the UK yet and that its implications were still unclear. But based on the early indications, it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the latest vaccines may be less effective against it, he said.
"Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant," Javid said during the briefing. "I'm concerned, of course — that's one of the reasons we have taken this action."
Delta, a variant first spotted in 2020, now accounts for an estimated 99.9% of new coronavirus cases in the US, per ABC News. It had mutations that helped make it more infectious compared with prior strains.
The newest variant, which will most likely be assigned a Greek nickname from WHO similar to Delta and the formerly dominant Alpha variant, has more than 50 mutations overall, and more than 30 on the spike protein, Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said during a briefing Thursday.
The variant seems to be responsible for an uptick in coronavirus cases in South Africa, per officials. At least 100 cases have been confirmed through sequencing samples, up from just 10 recorded cases on Wednesday.
After Sunday morning, people traveling into the UK from the designated African countries will need to quarantine for 10 days in government-approved hotels, per Javid. Starting midday Friday, the government is suspending all flights from the countries until the hotel quarantine system is up and running, according to the BBC.
WHO officials plan to meet Friday to further analyze the situation. Javid stressed how much remains unknown about the variant but said the restrictions were meant to protect the UK's progress to date.
"It's a real reminder to us all that this pandemic is not over," he said.
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