Hunt for passengers just arrived in UK amid new Covid variant fears 2 months ago

Hunt for passengers just arrived in UK amid new Covid variant fears

Health Secretary says new variant poses a 'substantial risk to public health'

Officials are reportedly scrambling to trace people who recently arrived in the UK from southern Africa amid rising concerns around a mutant strain of Covid said to be "the worst seen" so far.

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On Friday six countries were added to the UK's red list after the discovery of the B.1.1.529 variant, which has the potential to "defeat the jab", Transport Secretary Grant Schnapps said Friday.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid delivered a statement on the new variant on Friday amid rising concerns stricter restrictions may be imposed before Christmas, saying that it poses a "substantial risk to public health".

Read more: New Covid variant 'worst one we've seen so far', say UK experts

The bulk of new cases involving the 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.

Javid said Thursday that the new variant "may be more transmissible" than the Delta strain and "the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective".

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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.

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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.