© Reuters. File photo: On May 27, 2021, a sign of social distancing appeared during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Leicester, UK. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers
Authors: Alistair Smout and William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters)-The United Kingdom said on Thursday that it is concerned about the spread of a newly discovered variant of the coronavirus in South Africa, which could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine and jeopardize efforts to fight the pandemic.
The British Health and Safety Agency stated that this variant, named B.1.1.529, has a spike protein that is completely different from the spike protein in the original coronavirus on which the COVID-19 vaccine is based.
Jenny Harries, CEO of UKHSA, said: “This is the most important variant we have encountered so far, and urgent research is currently underway to further understand its infectivity, severity and vaccine sensitivity.”
The variant was first discovered earlier this week, but the UK is eager to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighboring countries, and its actions are much faster than the currently dominant Delta variant.
“What we know is that there are a large number of mutations, probably twice the number of mutations we see in the Delta variant,” Health Minister Sajid Javid told the broadcaster.
“This suggests that it is likely to be more contagious, and the vaccine we currently have is likely to be less effective.”
The UK announced that it will temporarily ban flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from 1200 GMT on Friday, and British passengers returning from these destinations must be quarantined.
Javid said that more data on this variant is needed, but as a precaution, travel restrictions are necessary.
Scientists say that laboratory studies are needed to evaluate the possibility of mutations that greatly reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Earlier Thursday, South African scientists stated that they had discovered a small number of new COVID-19 variants and were working to understand its potential impact.
This variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the British Health and Security Agency stated that no cases have been found in the UK.
According to Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, B.1.1.529 has an “unprecedented” number of mutations in the spike protein and has contributed to the recent rapid increase in the number of cases in South Africa.
“Therefore, the government’s measures to restrict travel with South Africa are cautious,” he said.
“However, we have not yet reliably estimated to what extent B.1.1.529 may be more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to be able to conduct an evidence-based assessment of its risk. Posture. “
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