First case of new 'worst' Covid variant confirmed to have reached Europe
The discovery comes as six countries were added to the UK's red list
Virologist Marc Van Ranst said two samples were being examined in Belgium and one had been confirmed as B.1.1.529, the variant Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Friday said poses a "substantial risk to public health. The strain is thought to have the potential to "defeat the jab".
In Belgium, one sample was confirmed as the novel B.1.1.529 variant (in a returning traveller from Egypt (11/11); first symptoms on 22/11).
— Marc Van Ranst (@vanranstmarc) November 26, 2021
Ranst said the variant was found in a traveller returning to Belgium from Egypt on 11 November who had developed symptoms 10 days later on November 22.
On Friday six countries were added to the UK's red list after the discovery of the B.1.1.529 variant and the European Union recommended all EU counties introduce an "emergency brake" on travel from southern Africa.
Officials were on Friday reportedly scrambling to trace people who recently arrived in the UK from southern Africa.
The bulk of new cases involving the new variant have been found in South Africa, but arrivals from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe were temporarily banned from midday, in a decision South Africa has called "rushed". Anyone who landed in the UK from these countries in the last 10 days is being urged to take a PCR test and anyone that arrives from 4am Sunday must quarantine in hotels.
In Israel, the Prime Minister is considering declaring a state of emergency over the new variant, and the World Health Organisation us holding a special meeting to consider the significance of the variant.
Meanwhile, England's Covid weekly reproduction 'R' number on Friday rose above one, with latest estimates showing it between 1.0 and 1.1.
The latest R number, confirmed by the UK Health Security Agency, means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 10 and 11 other people. Last week, it was estimated to be between 0.8 and 1.0.
While announcing the travel ban, Javid was asked what impact the new stain might have on Christmas.
"We've got plans in place, as people know, for the spread of this infection here in the UK and we have contingency plans - the so-called Plan B."
Javid went on to reiterate that no cases of the new variant had been detected in the UK, "but we've always been clear that we will take action to protect the progress that we have made".
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Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said he could not predict what impact the new variant might have on Christmas.
"We now need to wait and see just what kind of threat this new variant may pose. If we're lucky, it won't be a serious one, but it could be very serious," he told ITV's Good Morning Britain on Friday.
He continued: "On the one hand, I don't want to induce unnecessary anxiety in people, but on the other hand, I think we all need to be ready for the possibility of a change in the restrictions."
Speaking on Friday, he told ITV's Good Morning Britain that a jump in cases in South Africa could be linked to the variant's enhanced transmissibility.