Scientists alarmed about new ‘worst’ COVID variant that could make vaccines 40% less effective
Scientists sound alarm over new ‘worst ever’ supermutant COVID variant that could make vaccines at least 40 percent less effective as UK and Israel ban travel from South Africa and five other African countries, but passengers continue to flow into US
- Britain’s health minister announced on Thursday that flights from six South African countries will be halted amid concerns about a new variant of COVID-19.
- From noon on Friday, flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended
- Israel followed suit on Thursday, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett adding the six plus Mozambique to the list of “red” countries, essentially preventing Israelis from traveling to and from the seven countries.
- The move is in response to a variant, B.1.1.529, which has a ‘highly unusual constellation’ of mutations
- The new variant, known as the Botswana variant and probably officially called Now, is worrying scientists because it’s thought to evade the body’s immune response and be more transmissible.
- There are no direct flights to the US from any of the seven countries, except South Africa, from which there are 13 flights a week
Every week, thousands of people from South Africa land in the United States, despite a new strain of COVID-19 raising such concern that Britain and Israel effectively halted travel from the region on Thursday.
The variant mainly occurs in Botswana – from where there are no direct flights to the US – and also in neighboring South Africa.
United Airlines currently flies direct from Johannesburg to New York City seven days a week, with the 16-hour flight departing at 10pm and arriving in Newark at 7am.
United also flies direct to New York City from Cape Town three times a week, on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
United flies Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which can accommodate 290 people.
Delta flies direct from Johannesburg to Atlanta on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays.
They use Airbus A350-900, which can accommodate 300 to 350 people.
On Thursday, UK Secretary of Health Sajid Javid sounded the alarm over what he called the ‘worst ever’ supermutant COVID variant.
A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg, South Africa on October 21
He said it could make vaccines at least 40 percent less effective, and as a result, he said they had banned flights from South Africa and five other regional countries.
Experts have previously explained how the B.1.1.529 variant has more than 30 mutations — the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta — suggesting it could be more puncture resistant and transferable than any previous version.
The variant – which could be dubbed ‘Now’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days – has led to an ‘exponential’ rise in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong and Botswana, where it is believed that to have arisen.
In response, Javid announced that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from noon on Friday and that all six countries will be added to the red list.
No cases have been discovered in the UK so far, but anyone who has returned from South Africa in the past 10 days will be contacted and asked to take a test.