And just like that South Africa is back on the UK red list.
The UK government has announced that new precautionary travel restrictions are being introduced after a new variant, Variant B.1.1.529, with an extremely high number of mutations, has been detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
South Africa and five other destinations, including Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia, were placed back on the red list. Travel experts in SA are calling this a “huge blow” for travellers.
According to the UK government, the variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations and mutations in other parts of the viral genome. “These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility. More investigation is required,” it revealed.
The UK government revealed that British nationals arriving from the six countries between midday Friday and 4am on Sunday, and those who have been in the six countries within the last 10 days, must quarantine at home for 10 days.
They also need to take the NHS PCR tests on day 2 and day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booking.
All passengers arriving from 4am on Sunday in England will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.
“No cases have been identified in the UK. We are taking these precautionary measures to protect public health and the progress we’ve made so far through our successful vaccination programme.
“A temporary ban on commercial and private planes travelling from the six countries will also come into force at midday on Friday until 4am Sunday to reduce the risk of importing this new variant under investigation while hotel quarantine is stood up. This excludes cargo and freight without passengers,” the statement added.
The UK thanked the South African government for its “surveillance of this variant and its transparency.”
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said they were taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of their vaccine rollout.
“We are monitoring the situation closely. I want to pay tribute to our world-leading scientists who are working constantly to keep our country safe, and I urge everyone to keep doing their bit by getting the jab and following public health guidance,” he said.
Dr Jenny Harries, UKHSA Chief Executive, said this had been the most significant variant they’ve encountered.
“Urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility. The results of these investigations will determine what public health actions may limit the impact of B.1.1.529.
This is a clear reminder to everyone that this pandemic is not over. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to limit transmission and reduce the infection rate and prevent the emergence of new variants.
“This means coming forward for vaccination as soon as possible and following public health advice. Wear a face covering in crowded places where it’s difficult to avoid coming into close contact with others, try to meet people in well-ventilated areas and seek a test immediately if you have symptoms,” she advised.