The new B.1.1.529 Covid variant is of “huge international concern” and it is highly likely it has spread further than South Africa, the UK health secretary has said.
Sajid Javid said he was “concerned this new variant may pose substantial risk to public health”, as he outlined new measures to prevent transmission from South Africa and four other nearby countries.
He said there were no known cases yet in the UK but precautions were being taken because current vaccines “may be less effective against it” and it may be more transmissible than other variants.
Flights from six countries – South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia – have been temporarily banned from midday on Friday until hotel quarantine is set up again. From 4am on Sunday, UK and Irish nationals arriving from those countries will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days. Non-UK and Irish nationals will are banned from entry.
Any UK nationals who arrive from those countries before Sunday, or who have arrived in the last 10 days, must get day two and day eight PCR tests even if they are vaccinated, and isolate at home along with the rest of the household. NHS test and trace will be contacting any travellers in this category and asking them to get PCR tests and undergo isolation.
The rules apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as all the devolved nations are aligning on the policies.
Javid said it was a “fast-moving situation and there remains a high degree of uncertainty”. He urged everyone to get their Covid vaccine booster shots as soon as possible.
The health secretary said there were “very live” discussions over the prospect of adding further countries to the travel “red list”.