New Covid variant may already be in Scotland, says Devi Sridhar

A new variant of Covid-19 first identified in South Africa will inevitably be brought to Scotland, public health expert Devi Sridhar has said.

It comes after UK officials sounded the alarm on Thursday night over the B.1.1.529 variant, which has the potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection.

Six African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – have been added to a UK travel red list over fears of importation.

No cases have yet been found in the UK, but Professor Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, said the variant may already have arrived.

Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

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Even if no cases have yet been brought to Scotland, this can only be delayed rather than prevented, she said.

“Of course, I think the worry is could it actually already be here,” she told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on Friday.

"But we know sequencing is quite good in the UK, so hopefully they look back now, confirm cases and will pick them up quite quickly.

“I don’t think we can stop importation fully. That’s the lesson, you can’t stop it. You can delay it and buy time, and that delay gives you more time to get boosters out to people and figure out your game plan.”

Scientists still know little about this variant and the risks it poses, Prof Sridhar said.

"It’s not yet seeded in the UK, but we know we’re heading into difficult months, December to February,” she said.

"We know we've come a long way, and we need to retain the progress we’ve made, so we’re seeing pre-emptive moves by the UK and Scottish Government to say before we have it seeded here. Let's try to buy time, delay importation, and better figure out how we manage this in the months ahead.”

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has also said it is possible the variant may already be in the UK.

The current situation is “reassuring”, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, but added that “people are arriving every day”.

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