A worrying new covid variant could possibly be in the UK already though the current signs are reassuring, according to the chief medical advisor at the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) .
Dr Susan Hopkins, said that scientists are very concerned about the new variant that has so far been found in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel, even though no cases have been detected in the UK.
AOL reports: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was “buying time” by adding South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to its travel red list, adding that the Government was taking a “safety-first approach”.
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Passengers arriving into the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a Government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.
Scientists around the globe are worried about the “horrific” number of mutations on the virus spike protein in the variant, which they fear could make it highly transmissible, more deadly and make vaccines less effective.
Dr Hopkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the variant had around “30 different mutations that seem relevant – that’s double what we had in Delta (variant)”.
She added: “If we look at those mutations, there’s mutations that increase infectivity, mutations that evade the immune response both from vaccines and from natural immunity, mutations that cause increased transmissibility.
“It’s a highly complex mutation, there’s also new ones that we have never seen before.”
She said the variant was the “most worrying” seen by scientists but much was as yet unknown.
South African scientists sounded the alarm over the variant, which they fear is behind a spike in cases in some regions, including the Gauteng province, which includes the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg.
“What we’re seeing in South Africa is that they were at a very, very low point with very low amount of cases being detected a day,” Dr Hopkins said.
“In a shorter period than two weeks, they have more than doubled their epidemiology picture, they are saying that the transmission rates, the R value that they have in Gauteng – around where this was first found – is now 2, which is really quite high.
“We haven’t seen levels of transmission like that since right back at the beginning of the pandemic… So that would cause a major problem if you had that high transmission with this type of virus in a population where it may evade the immune responses that are already there.”
She said South Africa was not a highly vaccinated population but it was “highly immune” due to prior infection.
Work is ongoing to see whether the new variant may therefore be causing new infection in people who have already had coronavirus or a vaccine, or whether waning immunity may be playing a role.
Asked if it was possible the variant was already in the UK, she said: “Well, it’s always possible. We have no cases identified whatsoever yet, nothing in our genome sequencing… So overall, I think the situation is reassuring in-country, but of course, people are arriving every day.”
She added that one of the mutations in the variant is very similar to one of the mutations in Alpha, which means it can be detected quite easily with PCR tests.
Asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain how likely it was the variant would come to the UK, Dr Hopkins said: “I think the measures that we take on borders are there to delay, to slow, to allow us to have time to gain more information.”
She added: “The fact this virus is resurging on a very immune population (in South Africa) is worrying.
“Clearly vaccines will help, because they will boost the antibody responses and the T cell responses in our body, which will help us fight variants, so global vaccination is a key component of that.
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