As foreign winter vacations from Botswana’s new Covid variety grow, ministers plan to increase the number of countries on the travel red list.

Officials were considering whether to add Malawi and Mozambique to the ‘no-go’ list as soon as this weekend – amid criticism from blacklisted countries, the UN and travel bosses that Britain has overreacted.

Due to growing concern about the variant, South Africa was added along with Botswana (previously known as Swaziland), Namibia, Botswana, Namibia and Eswatini. 

The first European instance of this potentially dangerous and deadly new strain, which is highly infectious in Europe, was discovered in Belgium. This led to concern about restrictions on travel to Africa.

On Thursday, the government’s decision sparked a scramble of some of the 20,000 Britons currently in South Africa on leisure travel. 

Anyone arriving back after this will be forced to quarantine in hotels for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285 per adult.

Yesterday, ministers supported the decision by defending it as a necessary safety-first strategy that would help to ‘buy’ time and stem the growth of the variant.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has announced that South Africa and Namibia flights, Botswana and Eswatini, Lesotho and Zimbabwe will be suspended beginning Friday at noon. The red list includes all six countries.

Stephanie Cramer, 55, (pictured) is stranded in Cape Town after flying from London to visit her sick father and celebrate her parents Wedding Anniversary

Stephanie Cramer (55) is currently stranded on Cape Town, after she flew from London to be with her dying father and mark her parents’ 55th wedding anniversary.

Gill Dixon, 52, (pictured), who flew to South Africa to attend her nephew's funeral, has criticised the government for not giving British nationals any notice over the travel ban

Gill Dixon, 52 (pictured), flew to South Africa in order to witness her nephew’s funeral. Gill Dixon has criticised British officials for failing to give notice of the travel ban.

South Africa’s foreign Minister Naledi Pandor was furious at the action, declaring that it “seems to be rushed”. 

Elle added that she was concerned about the immediate impact this decision would have on both the tourist industries and the businesses in each country.

Officials from the World Health Organisation, who were studying yesterday’s new strain of Omicron, thought that the restrictions on border crossings was an excessive reaction.

Christian Lindmeier spoke out during briefings at UN Headquarters in Geneva, warning against the implementation of travel measures. 

It would take scientists several weeks to discover how less effective these vaccines were against this variant, said he.

Q&A on everything you need to know about the new ‘Omicron’ variant

Which is the latest concern?

South African scientists identified B.1.1.529 Tuesday. The alarm was raised after routine analysis from Covid samples collected from patients in late November revealed that the most severely mutated Covid-19 ever discovered. It was officially named Omicron by the World Health Organization last night. It was initially referred to as both the ‘Nu’ and ‘Botswana’ variant.

What is its prevalence?

There have been around 100 confirmed cases worldwide, most of them in South Africa. The cases have also been confirmed in four other countries: Botswana (Hong Kong), Israel, and Belgium.

Are scientists worried now?

Omicron contains 50 mutations – 32 of which are on the spike protein, used by the virus to bind to human cells and attack the body. The spike protein is the target of vaccines and antibodies – therefore the number of mutations means it may no longer be recognised by our immune system. UK health officials say the variant is the most ‘worrying’ seen because the mutations are linked to increased transmission and evasion of immunity.

Can vaccines be used today?

The new variant is likely to evade existing immune responses to some extent –both from prior infection and vaccination. Vaccines still offer protection. Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer believe they have the ability to tweak vaccines so that they target specific variants.

Do existing treatment options still work or is it worse?

It is not known if the variant causes more deaths or severe illness. But it is likely to make antibody treatments which target the virus’s spike protein less effective. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the variant may ‘impact the effectiveness of one of our major treatments, Ronapreve’. Other key treatments, including antivirals, will not be affected.

Are we to panic?

No. As chief medial officer Chris Whitty put it yesterday: ‘To be honest I just think there is speculation about the [new variant] at the moment … the sensible thing at this stage is to be precautionary.’ There have been previous scares about new variants – such as Beta/South African and Brazilian – that turned out not to trouble the UK. Also, there is nothing to indicate that another UK lockdown may be in the works.

The anger of travel bosses was also evident. Paul Charles of the PC Agency luxury tourism consultancy said that this was a completely overreaction. 

This variant is not known to have any effect on vaccines.

“It will affect confidence, and cause lots of people to be worried about Christmas holidays South Africa and elsewhere.”

Cirium, one of the leading flight data analytics company Cirium has provided figures for Daily Mail showing that 289 flights were to be operated between South Africa (UK) and the UK next month. These numbers include 79,299 seat.

Yesterday, direct flights from six African countries to the UK were banning.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, warned that although the red list is being reviewed once again in two week’s time it will likely be extended in coming days to include additional countries with South African travel links.

The new variant poses a substantial risk to the public’s health, he told MPs. It’s highly probable that this variant has now spread to other nations, said he.

In the UK, no known cases of this disease have been identified. 

It was found in three cases in Israel, all of which were from people who had arrived in Israel via Malawi. Also, it has been found in Hong Kong.

Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) said, “It’s important to immediately act. We have a few more days for scientists to start sequencing the genome… So we can figure out the severity of this specific variant. 

“It’s a safety-first approach… It’s about purchasing time.”

Yesterday, Boris Johnson met with Cyril Ramaphosa, South African president. 

One spokesperson for No 10 said that they had discussed with the other parties the global problems posed by Covid-19 and the ways in which to address them.

Both leaders agreed that they would remain in close touch with each other as they dealt with the continuing threat.

The UK led the way yesterday, and Germany, France, Italy, France, and the Netherlands also restricted travel from South Africa.

Ursula von der Leyen (the top eurocrat of the European Union) urged leaders across the bloc to take action. 

Also, the US has restricted travel from eight African nations.

A South African woman, who traveled to South Africa in order to witness her nephew’s funeral, has criticised British authorities for failing to notify British nationals about their travel ban.

Gill Dixon (52), suffered the loss a fortnight after visiting her relative at the ICU in George.

Her plans to fly home Monday night in order to get back to work on Monday were disrupted by yesterday’s announcement.

Right, Mrs Dixon said that she couldn’t believe how the UK Government pulled off something similar on Britons living in South Africa.

“I woke up to discover that all flights home had been cancelled. Dixon stated that the British government’s treatment of British citizens is a shame.

She said that there was no warning given by the Government. They should repatriate British citizens. It’s absolutely disgusting.

The exorbitant cost of quarantine hotels only makes her more anxious, even if she could return to Kent. “There’s no reason I should be quarantined when I return,” she said. My test results will be negative and I can live alone. Quarantine has been increased to compensate.

Mrs Dixon stated that she was considering flying to Europe, the US and Europe for 10 days to see if it is worth the effort.

Stephanie Cramer, who flew over to see her dying father in Cape Town, is now stranded on Cape Town Island by the new version.

Virgin sent her a text late Thursday night advising her that her return flight to London was cancelled.

Miss Cramer (55) said she was extremely stressed about the job situation because she started a new position on Monday.

She said, “There are no flight options.” “I am desperate, and have run out of options.

“This is beyond terrifying. My dad is in the hospital. I was there for seven days. 

“Now, I don’t know when I’ll get back home.” 

Miss Cramer was a former London-based enrolment agent who traveled to South Africa in order to mark her parents’ marriage anniversary.

Flight Centre is one of South Africa’s largest airline ticketing agents. They said that no flight would leave for Europe or the UK until Sunday morning at 4am.

For two weeks, arrivals at this point will be held in expensive UK quarantine hotels. However, Miss Cramer stated that she can’t afford to pay for the hotel. She added, “Everywhere we turn it’s costing us more and it’s more complicated.”