COVID-19 antigen test
COVID-19 antigen test iStock

Britain on Thursday said it was concerned by the newly identified B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant which is spreading in South Africa and might make vaccines less effective, and slapped travel restrictions on six African countries.

Britain announced it was temporarily banning flights from South Africa and five other countries as of 1200 GMT on Friday and returning British travellers from those destinations would have to quarantine, Reuters reported.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the B.1.1.529 variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.

It has mutations that are likely to evade the immune response generated both by prior infection and vaccination, and also mutations associated with increased infectivity.

"What we do know is there's a significant number of mutations, perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant," Health Secretary Sajid Javid told broadcasters.

"And that would suggest that it may well be more transmissible and the current vaccines that we have may well be less effective," he added.

Israel, meanwhile, also announced precautionary measures for the new variant on Thursday.

At the conclusion of a consultation held by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, it was decided that the following countries have been declared at this stage as “red countries”: South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

Foreign nationals from these countries will not be permitted to enter Israel. All those returning from these countries, including those vaccinated with a third vaccine, will be required to undergo isolation in coronavirus hotels for seven days, and will be released after undergoing two PCR tests that have a negative result.

Passengers who refuse to be checked will be obligated to undergo 14 days of isolation at the coronavirus hotel.

Bennett will carry out regular situation assessments on the B.1.1529 variant together with professionals from the Ministry of Health, with the aim of closely monitoring the outbreak of the new variant and prevent its spread in Israel.

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