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South Africa among six countries to be added to travel red list in desperate bid to stop ‘worst ever’ variant of Covid

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Southern Africa is among six countries to be hit by a travel ban in a desperate attempt to stop the arrival of a terrifying new strain of Covid.

Senior government scientists said the super mutant was the “worst variant they have seen yet,” and the vaccines are expected to be at least a third less effective against it.

A new strain is spreading across South Africa

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A new strain is spreading across South Africa

Experts warn that the strain is behind an explosion of new cases in South Africa, with some regions experiencing a six-fold increase in infections in a matter of days.

Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from noon tomorrow and all six countries will be added to the red list, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

Javid said that the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain, adding that “the vaccines we currently have may be less effective.”

Officials are also desperately trying to track down thousands of people who have arrived from South Africa in the past ten days.

The scientists said the new strain was unlikely to be in the UK, but with up to 700 people flying in a day, they couldn’t rule it out.

Currently named B.1.1.529, the bug has 32 mutations, twice that of the delta variant.

Besides South Africa, it has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization wants to meet today [Fri] to decide whether to classify the bug as an imminent threat.

Government scientists were spooked last night by the new strain, saying their main concern is that the virus spike protein is “dramatically different” than the original Covid virus.

It means that vaccines and blockbuster new drugs will fight to neutralize it; With optimistic estimates, it will reduce efficiency by about a third.

WHO experts are likely to name the variant “Nu”, the next letter in the Greek alphabet, when they meet to discuss it.

This new variant seems to spread very quickly

Dr. Tulio de OliveiraVirus expert

Dr Tulio de Oliveira, one of the leading Covid trackers in South Africa, said it was “a major concern” and has quickly become the dominant strain.

He said: “This new variant seems to be spreading very fast.

“In less than two weeks it now dominates all infections after the devastating wave of the Delta in South Africa.

“The new variant is now found in 75 percent of the last genomes and will soon reach 100 percent.”

At least 77 cases have been detected in the country, but many more have not been controlled.

Virus scientists in the UK said it was the most worrying thing that had emerged from Delta.

They called on ministers to act immediately by halting travel from southern Africa and developing new vaccines to deal with some of the mutations.

More to follow …

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