The U.K. and Israel have each imposed new travel restrictions on travelers from some southern African countries due to concerns over a new Covid variant, known as B.1.1.529, which is believed to have many mutations.
Flights from six countries—South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini–will be temporarily suspended, Sajid Javid, the U.K.’s Health Secretary, said.
Anyone entering the U.K. from the six countries starting Sunday is required to quarantine in a hotel, according to the BBC.
Javid said the new variant has “double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant,” which suggests it could be “more transmissible” and the vaccines could be “less effective.”
Over in Israel, non-Israeli travelers or residents from six African countries—Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini—have been barred entry due to the new variant found in those countries, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
59 cases of the new variant have been confirmed in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, according to the BBC.
The WHO has convened a meeting for Friday to discuss the new variant. South African scientists have found some 30 mutations to the spike protein. Experts at the meeting are expected to discuss what the variant means for Covid vaccines and treatments. The WHO said South Africa has seen a small number of the variant. “We don’t know very much about this yet,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on Covid-19 at the WHO, said Thursday. “What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations,” she said, adding that mutations can impact how the virus behaves.
Covid: Africa travel restrictions over variant fear (BBC)
WHO calls special meeting to discuss new Covid variant found in South Africa with ‘a large number of mutations’ (CNBC)