Britain’s health minister said on Wednesday more areas in England would be placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of a new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19 suspected to come from South Africa. England also announced a suspension of flights from the country.
British health minister Matt Hancock said from December 26, large regions across southern England would join London and neighbouring areas in Tier 4 restrictions, similar to that of a lockdown.
“This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant has been discovered in the UK,” he said.
Later on Wednesday, British transport minister Grant Shapps said he had ordered flights and arrivals from South Africa to be halted.
“I’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from South Africa from 9am tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus,” Shapps said.
South Africa’s health department said last week that a new genetic mutation of the virus had been found and might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there.
“Thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we’ve detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK,” Hancock told a media briefing.
“Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.”
Britain is already battling to curb the spread of a mutated strain of the virus which is up to 70 percent more transmissible.
“The new variant in the UK, which we’ve identified, is very different to the variant in South Africa, it’s got different mutations,” said Susan Hopkins from Public Health England.
“Both of them look like they’re more transmissible. We have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant because we’ve been studying that with great detail with academic partners. We’re still learning about the South African variant.”
She expressed confidence that the spread of the South Africa-linked variant would be controlled and said vaccines that have already been developed should be effective.
“We have no evidence at the moment that the vaccine will not work, so actually what that means in fact is that there’s strong evidence that it will work, because the vaccine produces a strong immune response and it’s broad and acts against lots of variation in the virus,” she said.
He said close contacts of those with the new variant were being quarantined and all those who had been in South Africa in the last fortnight also needed to quarantine.
He also said immediate restrictions were being imposed on travel from South Africa.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)