In South Africa, a newly discovered coronavirus variant is spreading, potentially rendering vaccines ineffective and jeopardizing efforts to combat the pandemic.
The variant, known as B.1.1.529, does have a spike protein that is significantly different from the one found in the original coronavirus used to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
Jenny Harries, UKHSA Chief Executive, expressed concern, saying that this appears to be the most significant variant they have encountered to date and that urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity, and vaccine-susceptibility.
The variant has been found early this week, however, the UK and Israel quickly imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and other five neighboring countries, reacting far quicker than the currently popular Delta variant.
The Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, told broadcasters that they only know there are a large number of mutations, possibly double the number seen in the Delta variant.
That would imply that it is far more contagious and that current vaccines are ineffective.
Britain will temporarily restrict flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Eswatini beginning at 1200 GMT on Friday, and British tourists having returned from all those countries would be quarantined.
According to the scientists, lab research is needed to predict the validity of the mutations resulting in substantially decreased vaccine efficacy.
Earlier on Thursday, South African scientists announced that they had discovered the new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and were investigating its potential implications.
The variant has also been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the UK Health Security Agency has reported no cases of it in the country.