The South African government says the UK’s decision to place South Africa back on its Red List, is rushed.
The decision followed the detection of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa with a high number of mutations which has raised concerns among scientists and triggered travel restrictions by a number of countries amid fears of coronavirus transmissions.
UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said South Africa and 5 of its neighbours will be on the list from Sunday.Until then all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini are suspended. Travellers from these countries will have to be quarantined. Several countries in Europe and Asia have now also imposed restrictions.
The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing. News of the announcement broke on Thursday.
The new COVID-19 variant, called B.1.1.529, has a very unusual constellation of mutations, which are worrying because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists have said.
South African scientists have detected more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the part of the virus that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells.
Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said the variant has baffled experts. “It has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected,” de Oliveira said.Some of the mutations look similar to mutations that have been found on other variants of concern that enhance those variants transmissibility
“The one piece of good news is that it can be detected by a PCR test”, de Oliveira added
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is “closely monitoring” the reported variant and is expected to meet on Friday to determine if it should be designated a variant of “interest” or of “concern”.
South Africa loses approximately R26 million for everyday it spends on the UK’s red list according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. This latest travel ban has caused widespread disbelief and disappointment amongst the hospitality industry as the peak festive season approaches.