Last night, panic over the mutant coronavirus variant caused by a virus mutation was calmed down by health officials.
The group insisted there was no Christmas threat, and they called for “calm heads” to keep the peace. They also warned against any rush toward new restrictions.
The authorities said they could not imagine a scenario where the new strain of the virus would take the country to square one, despite the flight cancellations from south Africa.
Chris Whitty is the chief medical officer. He said alarmist warnings had been made purely for speculation, as this variant was only spreading in small numbers. He also asked whether people would be open to coronavirus curbs being restored.
Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, told MPs there was “huge international concern” but that vaccines have put Britain in an advantageous position.
Experts believe that existing vaccines can be modified to combat the disease. And a World Health Organisation representative said that resorting to ‘Plan B’ measures so quickly, such as working from home or vaccine passports, would be an over-reaction.
Originally known as the Botswana strain, this strain has been officially named the ‘variant concern’ and renamed ‘Omicron by the WHO.
The discovery of it earlier this week is so important because there are around 30 mutations in the genome, some that could increase transmission risk. It is the worst variant, according to one expert.
After the confirmation of the first South African case in Europe, the EU quickly suspended all travel to the region. Britain had already put six nations on the travel ‘red list’ – and was poised to add two more last night.
An adviser to the government suggested that people should be prepared for the possibility of Covid restrictions being reintroduced. Mail received this statement from a government official: “People shouldn’t panic.”
Other developments from last night
- After a young, unvaccinated woman test positive for the virus, it was confirmed as European’s first case in Belgium.
- Covid-infected patients were less common.
- Officially, you have no greater chance of getting Covid from visiting the theatre or watching football matches than your friends.
- Experts from South Africa suggested that there were ‘every indications’ vaccines are still effective against this variant.
- There was speculation that vaccine experts would approve booster jabs soon after the strain’s discovery.
- Reports of another 50,091 cases and 160 deaths from the virus were also reported
The chart below shows how many cases were either the B.1.1.529 or Indian ‘Delta) variants over time in Guateng province, South Africa. This is the area where the virus is the most common. This suggests that Delta could be outcompeted by the mutant strain within weeks.
Addressing a conference yesterday, Professor Whitty said: ‘The situation that we’ve got as a result of vaccines – and particularly in older citizens and people with higher risk conditions because of boosters – is a very different one to what we entered the year with.
‘And leaving aside the new variant – which there is speculation about at the moment – the outlook… is actually reasonably manageable.’
Francois Balloux was the director of University College London’s genetics Institute. He advised the NHS and ministers to increase vaccine uptake prior to the arrival of the variant.
He stated that scientists and politicians need to be calm and that he could not see the benefit of alarming the general public.
On Thursday night, South Africa was placed on the redlist by the government.
This mutant strain has been also found in Israel and Hong Kong. It has twice the number of’relevant’ variants than the Delta version, which is responsible for most global infections.
Yesterday, Susan Hopkins, the chief medical advisor to the UK Health Security Agency said that early signs indicated it was most worrying. Researchers will need to wait several weeks to find out if the strain can be evaded vaccines or is more easily transmissible.
South African Medical Association chairman Dr Angelique coetzee said that only mild cases were known to be caused by the variant. He added, “I’m still not clear why everyone is so upset.”
Professor Raghib Al Ali is a Senior Clinical Research Associate at University of Cambridge. He suggested that panicking would be detrimental to those suffering from fragile mental health.
WHO Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro on Covid-19 said that vaccine evasion is a “reasonable concern”. However, Dr David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on Covid-19, stated that vaccine evasion is a’reasonable concern’.
Wendy Barclay, a professor of virology at Imperial College London, said that – even if the variant evaded antibodies – vaccines would still provide some immunity via T-cells.
The United States announced last night that it will restrict travel from eight countries in southern Africa because of concerns over the variant.
It does not prohibit or apply to US citizens, permanent residents or employees.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had earlier called for an EU-wide travel ban to southern Africa warning that the Omicron strain could be world-dominant in months.
In an effort to stop the spread of the strain, South African passengers flying from South Africa to the Netherlands were prohibited from getting on the plane. After undergoing a screening and leaving their contact details, they were allowed to leave the runway.
By contrast, British arrivals from the variant’s epicentre Johannesburg were left to mingle with hundreds of others as they flew into Heathrow on the last flights out of Africa before the red list was re-imposed at noon. Heathrow passenger who flew into the airport revealed that they did not have to be tested for or asked about their travel records.
However, there was a new push to encourage Brits get vaccinated by Maggie Throup (vaccines minister Maggie Throup) in an effort to avoid Christmas restrictions.
According to BBC Radio 4, she said that Any Questions? The WHO has recognized it as a type of concern, which makes it even more severe.
She added that at the moment, we do not know whether it will get the vaccines it has been receiving and if its infectious potential will surpass the one we are currently using.
“When it is Christmas I believe that getting vaccinated will make this a better Christmas than the one we had last year.
She encouraged people who were hesitant to receive their first vaccination and to ask for help from others eligible to do so.
Today, South Africa’s flight to the Netherlands was denied entry. Above, passengers are seen waiting for their flight.
The cockpit (right) is shown above, as well as the seats. Today at noon, South African flights were stopped by the Netherlands.
Professor Adam Finn, a vaccines advisor, raised concerns about the possibility of locking down curbs being reinstated. people must be braced for a ‘change in restrictions’ if the variant spreads to the UK.
The chief medical adviser to the UK Health and Security Agency, Dr Susan Hopkins said it was possible that the strain may have already been introduced into Britain. People are “coming every day” to the UK, she said, from places where it had been detected.
Around 10,000 people have arrived in South Africa, where most of the cases of this mutant strain were discovered. While Mr. Javid maintained that there have not been any confirmed cases in the UK of this strain, he said the Government was working fast but with uncertainty. He also warned boosters are vital now.
Experts said that the strain will spread faster if it can be avoided and ‘will get there’. Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) suggested that the goal of travel restrictions was to “slow down” potential entry into this country.
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 jab-resistant and transmissible than any version before it. This has led to an “exponential” increase in South African infections.
In response, Mr Javid announced last night that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.
Israel, which was first to do so after the detection of a case in Israel today, was also the first nation to red-list the six countries. European Commission recommended that travel bans be placed on countries from Southern Africa.
Ms. Javid stated this in the House of Commons today, saying that “it is highly probable that it has now spreadto other countries”.
He stated that he was concerned about the potential for a significant health risk from this variant.
The variant contains an uncommonly large amount of mutations. This variant is the only one with this name, so it has a higher priority than Beta.
It shares many features with the Alpha, Beta, and Delta versions.
“Early indications suggest that this variant could be more transmissible to than the Delta variant, and existing vaccines might not be as effective against it.
“It could also affect the effectiveness of Ronapreve, one of our main treatments.”
According to the Health Secretary, the government continues to review its travel restrictions to South Africa. She also urged people to get their booster doses soon.
He said: ‘We are continuing to make assessments, including about those countries with strong travel links to South Africa and we’re working with our international partners — including South Africa and the European Union — to ensure an aligned response.
“But this variant serves as a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues.
This slide displays the percentage of test results that revealed a SGTF mutation. It is a characteristic of B.1.1.529. The Covid variant could be quickly spreading across the country, as it is evident in the slide. Today’s briefing was held by South African Government.
This slide lists variants found in South Africa by province since October 2013. The above slide suggests that B.1.1.529 has been focused on Gauteng. The South African Government presented this information today during a briefing
The above shows the test positivity rate — the proportion of tests that picked up the virus — across Gauteng province. The northern region of the province has seen an increase in cases. The cause of this increase could be B.1.1.529.
This happened as Britain’s Covid daily cases exceeded 50,000 today. Deaths crept up 2 percent in a week, but hospital admissions fell 12 percentage points.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting on Monday, following the detection of the new variant.
According to the White House, those countries were Botswana (Zimbabwe), Lesotho and Eswatini in Mozambique.
‘The policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution,’ a senior administration official said, after news of the variant caused the Dow futures to fall by 2.25 percent, and both the NASDAQ and S&P Futures Indices to fall by more than 1 percent.
Brent Crude was the price at which the oil market is traded, and fell six percent.
Backlash over new travel ban: Health chiefs and tourism bosses say it’s overreaction to latest strain
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.
Over growing concerns about this variant, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia were all added to the list on Thursday night. The first European instance of the new, highly infectious and possibly vaccine-busting strain occurred in Belgium. This led to fears about restrictions on travel to Africa.
On Thursday night, the Government made a move that caused a panic among some of the 20,000 Britons visiting South Africa to travel for pleasure. They were asked to hurry to get home by 4 AM tomorrow. Anyone arriving back after this will be forced to quarantine in hotels for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285 per adult.
Yesterday’s defense by ministers was that it was necessary to take a safety-first approach, which would allow for ‘buying time’ and stop the spread of the variant.
South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor criticized the decision, saying that it was ‘rushed’. Her immediate concern was the impact this will have on both tourism and business in both countries.
Officials of the World Health Organisation were examining the strain yesterday and suggested that border restrictions are an exaggerated response.
Christian Lindmeier spoke out during briefings at UN agency headquarters in Geneva. He stated, “At this time, implementing travel actions is being cautioned about.” It would take scientists several weeks to discover how effective the vaccines against this variant are, he said.
Also, travel executives reacted angrily. Paul Charles, the chief executive of PC Agency, a luxury travel agency, stated that it was a completely inappropriate reaction. At the moment, there is no evidence that the variant had 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 banned.
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 the next few days to cover additional countries with South African travel links.
The new variant poses a substantial risk to the public’s health, he told MPs. He stated that it was ‘highly probable’ that the variant had spread to other nations.
The UK has not yet seen any cases. The three confirmed cases were among people from Malawi who had traveled to Israel. Also, it has been found in Hong Kong.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary said that it was important to take action immediately. It gives the scientists some time to start sequencing the genome… in order to determine the severity of this particular variant. Safety-first… this is about buying time.
Boris Johnson and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa spoke to yesterday. According to a spokesperson for No 10, the two discussed global challenges and possible solutions.
Both leaders agreed that they would remain in close touch with each other as we confront the continuing threat.
Yesterday, the UK was followed by France, Germany, Italy and France, who restricted travel to South Africa from its neighboring countries.
Ursula von der Leyen (the top European Union Eurocrat) urged every leader of the bloc to follow her lead. A total of eight African countries were also banned by the US from flights.
Do not panic. Jabs have worked on every variant — the world IS winning, writes PROFESSOR BRENDAN WREN
People can be forgiven for panicking when a UK Health Security Agency expert warns of a new Covid virus variant. Another scientist says it is “the worst” and another scientists calls it “horrific”.
And, at first glance, there is certainly good reason to pay attention to B.1.1.529 – the new variant identified in southern Africa.
This strain has fifty mutations, compared with the one that was first discovered in Wuhan 2 years ago. It’s therefore very different to the original virus.
The part of the disease that affects human cells has ten mutations, as opposed to the only two in the Delta variant.
So the biggest questions that need to be answered are: Is it more transmissible, more dangerous, or are vaccines more effective?
These are the areas where we remain largely unaware. That’s why it’s prudent for the time being to try to keep the variant out of this country for as long as possible by stopping flights here from affected nations – though we need to be realistic about any ability to do this in the long term.
But here’s the key point – viruses mutate all the time. Even though they can cause more serious or dangerous strains, it doesn’t mean they are always more deadly. It’s actually the reverse. Pathogens become less dangerous over time because viruses that quickly kill their hosts spread less rapidly than those that don’t.
But what about vaccines. There have been worried claims that the variant will somehow be ‘resistant’ to the growing arsenal of jabs – let alone all the other drugs and treatments – that the world’s medical community has developed to fight Covid.
Are these assertions true? We don’t know. Even though our current vaccines do not work as well against B.1.1.529 it does not necessarily mean we will return to early 2020.
Our vaccines are effective against every variant of the virus. These vaccines were based on the Wuhan strain’s DNA and have been very successful.
The UK is also the leader in genome sequencing. The UK sequences more than 50K strains of Covid per week. This allows us to be one step ahead and have an early warning system in case of new variations.
This is how we identified the Alpha (or Kent) variant – it probably arose abroad but our modelling here allowed us to spot it before anyone else.
The world is home to a multitude of companies that are developing vaccine technologies. Scientists can easily modify vaccines to meet new variants – within days if necessary.
To combat this new variant of the virus, we will need to tweak an existing vaccine.
The vaccine team at Oxford University – and other scientists around the world – are already looking at the genome sequences of all the virus’s variants, including B.1.1.529.
In the arms race against the virus, humanity is winning – and we are well-prepared. It is possible that another version of this virus may emerge. In the interim, you must remember to keep calm and not panic.
- Brendan Wren, a professor of vaccinology in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is Brendan.