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Britain alarmed by new COVID-19 variant spreading in South Africa -Breaking

© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This sign shows social distancing amid the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Leicester, Britain. May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Written by William Schomberg and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters), – Britain on Thursday expressed concern about a coronavirus variant that has been identified in South Africa. It could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and put at risk efforts to eradicate the pandemic.

According to the UK Health Security Agency, the variant is B.1.1.529 and contains a spike protein which was significantly different from the coronavirus original that COVID-19 vaccines were based upon.

“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.

Although the variant was initially identified in the middle of this week’s week, Britain moved quickly to impose travel restrictions on South Africa, five other countries and their neighbours. This is faster than what happened with the Delta variant.

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary at the Ministry of Health told television that there are a lot of mutations.

This would indicate that the virus may be more transmittable and that current vaccines might be less effective.

Britain said it had temporarily banned flights to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe from 1200 GMT Friday. All British tourists returning from such destinations would need to quarantine.

Javid stated that more information was required on this variant, however travel restrictions were needed as a precaution.

According to scientists, lab tests are required in order to determine the possibility of mutations that could lead greatly decreased vaccine effectiveness.

South African scientists stated that they have detected the COVID-19 variant and are working on its implications earlier in Thursday.

This variant is also known to be present in Botswana as well as Hong Kong. But, the UK Health Security Agency stated that no such cases had been identified in Britain.

Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist said B.1.1.529 contained an “unprecedented number” of mutations in spike protein. He also stated that this was responsible for a rapid rise in South Africa’s case count.

“The government’s move to restrict travel with South Africa is, therefore, prudent,” he said.

However, there are not enough data to determine if B.1.1.529 may be more resistant or transmissible to vaccines. It is therefore too early to give an evidence-based assessment on the potential risk.

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Mike Robinson
Mike covers the financial, utilities and biotechnology sectors for Street Register. He has been writing about investment and personal finance topics for almost 12 years. Mike has an MBA in Finance from Wake Forest University.