Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there are no UK cases of the new coronavirus variant, found in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel, but that the Government is concerned it could “pose a substantial risk to public health”.
Mr Javid told the House of Commons that the new variant could be more transmissible than the Delta variant, and may impact the effectiveness of current vaccines.
“It may also impact the effectiveness of one of our major treatments,” he said.
He said the variant was of “huge international concern” and it was “highly likely” it had spread to other countries.
“We are concerned that this new variant may pose substantial risk to public health. The variant has an unusual large number of mutations,” he said.
“Yesterday the UK Health Security Agency classified B.1.1.529 as a new variant under investigation and the variant technical group has designated it as a variant under investigation with very high priority.”
While six countries have been added to the UK’s red list, an effective travel ban, there were “live discussions” about adding new countries to the list, he added.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said new restrictions cannot be ruled out as scientists work around the clock to understand the new variant.
On Thursday night six countries, including South Africa, were added to the UK’s red list.
Ministers said they put a travel ban on six countries - South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe - as part of a “safety first” approach.
It means travellers from those countries will have to spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel.
The chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency has said it was the “most complex” and “worrying” strain detected so far during the pandemic.