The UK government has imposed an immediate travel ban from the UK to South Africa after a new Covid-19 strain was discovered.
The mutated strain originated in South Africa and is said to be more contagious and spread more easily, meaning recent visitors to the country must now quarantine to prevent any further transmission.
Speaking at Downing Street press conference on Wednesday (23 Dec), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that two cases of another new strain have been identified from contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.
He warned that the new strain is “yet more more transmissible” and appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has already been discovered in the UK.”
Both cases and close contacts have been quarantined and there are now immediate restrictions on travel from the UK to South Africa.
The government is advising those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.
Mr Hancock said, “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the UK.
“Anyone in the UK who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight and anyone who is a close contact of someone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight, must quarantine immediately.
“They must restrict all contact with any other person whatsoever.
“These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down.”
Different to the variant already in the UK
Infectious diseases expert Dr Susan Hopkins explained that the new variant already discovered in the UK, which has forced larged parts of southern England into Tier 4 restrictions, is very different to the variant in South Africa, as it has different mutations.
She said, “Both of them look like they are 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 and you’ve heard already the measures that we’re introducing to ensure that we quarantine people who are coming in from South Africa.
“Therefore, we are pretty confident actually that this system we have in place will help control the spread.”
More areas of England moving to Tier 4
The news of the South African strain comes after the government confirmed more parts of England will move into a higher tier of lockdown restrictions from Boxing Day.
More of the east and south east of England will be placed into Tier 4 as of 12.01am on 26 December, while other parts will move into Tier 3 and Tier 2.
The change means that 24 million people will now face Tier 4 restrictions over Christmas, accounting for 43 per cent of the population of England.
Mr Hancock said “it is vital that we act” and stressed that it will not be possible to have the Christmas that people yearn for.