UK taking ‘safety first approach’ with travel ban over new COVID variant, says Shapps

The UK is taking “a safety first approach” in banning entry from six African countries in the face of a virulent new COVID variant, Grant Shapps has told Sky News.

Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from 12pm on Friday until 4am on Sunday.

From Sunday onwards, new arrivals in the UK will be required to quarantine in hotels.

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Mr Shapps said: “It is important to make sure that you do act immediately and in doing so you get to slow things down in terms of potential entry into the country.

“That gives us a bit of time for the scientists to work on sequencing the genome, which involves growing cultures – it takes several weeks to do – so we can find out how significant a concern this particular variant is.

“It is a safety-first approach.

“We have done that before with things like the mink variant from Denmark and we were then able to relax it reasonably quickly.”

The UK Health Security Agency has said the new B.1.1.529 variant identified in South Africa is the “worst one we’ve seen so far” and has a spike protein that is “dramatically” different to the original COVID strain.

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The variant also has 30 mutations – twice as many as the Delta variant – and are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination.

However, B.1.1.529 can be detected with a normal PCR test.

No cases of this variant have been reported so far in the UK, and anyone who has travelled from one of these countries in the past 10 days is now being invited to come forward for a test.

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