South Africa will be reinstated on the UK’s ‘Red List’ of countries subject to travel bans, barely months after it was removed and travel restrictions were lifted.
If a country is placed on the Red List, international visitors will be barred from entering the UK after visiting South Africa, while British visitors will be held in hotel quarantine.
The decision to impose a travel ban on South Africa and five other Southern African countries came after urgent consultations on Thursday night between government ministers, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and health professionals about a new COVID-19 subtype detected in South Africa.
The variety, now identified as B.1.1.529, is thought to be responsible for a sudden and worrisome increase in infections across South Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) will host an emergency conference tomorrow to officially call the variant the ‘Nu’ variant, according to the Greek categorization system.
Downing Street downplayed the threat posed by the variety earlier on Thursday, but officials are concerned that the sheer number of mutations detected in the variant could evade existing vaccines.
Over the summer, the UK relaxed several of its travel restrictions, and there are currently no nations on the ‘Red List.’
South Africa was first placed on the Red List due to the risk posed by the Beta form, which resulted in a COVID outbreak in the country.
The Beta strain failed to take hold in the United Kingdom and was eventually supplanted by a faster-spreading and more transmissible Delta strain, which is thought to have originated in India.
The British government came under fire for postponing a decision on whether or not to put India on the Red List. Delta had already established a presence in the UK by the time flights from India were halted.
Officials realize they can prevent the new variety from entering the UK, but they are hoping that a travel ban will delay its arrival while scientists figure out how to combat it.
On Thursday night, Javid announced that six nations in Southern Africa would be added to the UK’s Red List as of noon on Friday, with all direct flights from these countries prohibited.
Travelers from the United Kingdom will be required to quarantine, however, there may be a delay in the reopening of quarantine hotels after the system was essentially shut down.