The World Health Organisation has named the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of Covid-19 Omicron and labelled it a ‘variant of concern’. 

UN chiefs of health warned that the strain could be more infectious than the Delta version and has a higher risk of reinfection.  

“Based upon the evidence and indications of a negative change in Covid-19 epidemiology…” the WHO designated B.1.1.529 Omicron as a variant, according to a UN statement.  

The Omicron variant has more than 30 mutations — the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta — meaning it could be more jab-resistant and transmissible that any version before it. 

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, said that there was a ‘huge international concern” about the strain. He had banned flights from South Africa and Botswana to stop it spreading.

He explained to MPs the concern that the variant could be more transmissible. This may make vaccines less efficient and might affect Ronapreve (Covid) in the UK.

Today, Belgium revealed that it had received a Omicron variant. This sparked fears about a Christmas shutdown. EU leaders also called for an emergency brake on travel to southern Africa.  

According to the Belgian Health Ministry, a new Omicron strain case was found in an unvaccinated woman returning from Egypt eleven days ago. This suggests that it has already been seeded on the continent. 

Professor John Edmunds is part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and advises government. He warned that this could cause a very, very, very difficult position’.

Following Britain’s decision to prohibit flights to six African countries, the EU also followed the WHO’s addition of Omicron to the highest classification for concern variants. Boris Johnson spoke with Cyril Ramaphosa the South African president tonight to discuss the matter.    

This strain was initially reported to WHO by South Africa’s on November 24, but it was actually a specimen from November 9th. 

The World Health Organisation (pictured, Director General World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus)  has named the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of Covid-19 Omicron and labelled it a 'variant of concern'

The World Health Organisation (pictured, Director General World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus)  has named the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of Covid-19 Omicron and labelled it a ‘variant of concern’

Angelique coetzee is the South African Medical Association’s chairwoman. She said it was not too soon to impose travel restrictions.

She said to the BBC, “It’s an hasty decision.” I could understand the delay if two weeks passed and more was known about the virus infection. 

“But at the moment it is just a small storm in a cup of tea, but we’ve only discovered this virus mutation in the past week. The cases we’ve seen so far are mild, and I’m not quite sure why people are getting all excited.  

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 a thorough test, they were allowed to leave their contact details and get off 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.   

This comes at a time when Britain’s Daily Covid Cases exceed 50,000 and death rates rise by 2 percent in one week. However, hospital admissions are down 12 percentage. 

Israel also confirmed the case of a vaccine-vaccinated person in its third continent. This Israeli was returning from Malawi. The investigation of two other cases is ongoing.

South African Medical Association gave hope that Botswana’s variants had only affected young people. The global reaction was described by the South African Medical Association as “a storm in a teacup”. 

Angelique Coetzee, the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, said that it was too early to begin imposing travel restrictions

Angelique Cetzee (chairwoman, South African Medical Association) stated that it was not too soon to start imposing travel restrictions

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the Omicron variant (blue) and Indian 'Delta' variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

The chart below shows how many cases were Omicron (blue) or Indian (Delta) variants over the course of time in Guateng province, South Africa. This is the area where the virus has the highest prevalence. This suggests that Delta could be outcompeted by the mutant strain within weeks.

The above slide shows variants that have been detected by province in South Africa since October last year. It suggests Omicron is focused in Gauteng province. This was presented at a briefing today from the South African Government

This slide lists variants found in South Africa by province since October 2013. This suggests that Omicron’s focus is in Gauteng. The South African Government presented this information today at a briefing

The above shows the test positivity rate — the proportion of tests that picked up the virus — across Gauteng province. It reveals that there is an uptick of cases in the northern part of the province. It is not clear whether this could be driven by Omicron

The above shows the test positivity rate — the proportion of tests that picked up the virus — across Gauteng province. This shows that the north part of Gauteng has seen an increase in cases. This could have been caused by Omicron.

A flight from South Africa to the Netherlands was barred entry into the country today. Passengers are pictured above waiting in their seats

The Netherlands today barred South African passengers from flying to South Africa. Above, passengers are seen waiting for their flight.

According to passengers on the last flight back from South Africa, there were no additional restrictions 

Passengers arriving into the UK on one of the last flights from South Africa have revealed they were not offered tests and left to mix with hundreds of others despite mounting concern over the new variant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that flights from South Africa – as well as  Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – will be suspended from midday. All of them have been added to the red list. 

But passengers arriving from Johannesburg – the capital of the province of Gauteng where the variant was first identified – were subjected to ‘no additional precautions’, according to one of the people on the flight – one of three arriving at Heathrow before the ban comes into force.

Writer and political commentator Adam Schwarz tweeted: ‘A friend arrived in London this morning on one of the last flights from South Africa. Officials from the Health Department met with the aircraft, however no further precautions have been taken to protect the many passengers.

“The captain gave a written statement that he was advising self-isolation. However, it is at passengers’ discretion and cannot be legally enforced. After boarding the airport shuttle, passengers were able to mix with other flight passengers and go baggage reclaim. The airport shuttle to baggage reclaim was not available for passengers.

Sajid Javid Health Secretary, warned of the dangers that this pandemic could entail. Experts from No10 have admitted that the super strain may already exist in the UK. This would make it 40% more difficult to develop vaccines.

In a sombre statement to MPs in the House of Commons this morning, the Health Secretary said the new Omicron strain posed a ‘substantial risk to public health’ and described its ultra-transmissibility and vaccine-dodging abilities as of ‘huge international concern’. 

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. According to Hopkins, people are ‘coming in every day’ from other countries that have spied the strain. 

In the two most recent weeks, around 10,000 individuals are believed to have arrived in South Africa from the region 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. 

According to top experts, if the strain grows faster and is able to avoid any current jabs it “will get here”. Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) suggested that the goal of travel restrictions was to “slow down” potential entry into the country. 

In response, Mr Javid announced last night that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.

Israel was the first country that followed suit. It also red-listed six other nations following a single case. According to the European Commission, travel restrictions from Southern African countries should be imposed on an emergency basis. 

Ms. Javid stated this in the House of Commons today, saying that it was ‘highly likely’ it had spread to other nations. 

He stated that he was concerned about the potential for a significant health risk. This variant is unusually rich in mutations. The only variant that has this designation is Beta, which makes it more important than Beta. It has many similarities to the Alpha, Beta, or Delta variants.

Early indications indicate that the variant might be more transmissible then the Delta variant. Current vaccines could also be less effective. This could also affect Ronapreve, one of the major treatments we offer. 

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 that the pandemic continues. Keep alert and take precautions. Once you have been deemed eligible for a booster shot, it is essential that we do our best to prevent this from happening again.

‘We’ve already given over 16 million booster shots. The booster jab was already important before we knew about this variant – but now, it could not be more important.’

Dr Susan Hopkins stated earlier that the first glance at the DNA revealed that it had a number of mutations. It has 30 mutations that are relevant. This is twice what was found in Delta.

“And you can look at these mutations as mutations which increase infectivity or mutations that evade the immune response (both from vaccines, natural immunity), mutations that cause increased transmissibility. It’s a complex mutation. We don’t know what they will interact with each other.

“So, all this makes it a very complex and challenging variant. I believe we will have to learn more about it before being able to say that it is definitely the most complicated variant.

She stated, “It is most worrying that we’ve ever seen.” 

There have not been any cases in the UK, but anyone who returned to South Africa within the last 10 days will be called and asked for a test. 

There are currently between 600 and 700 South Africans traveling to the UK daily, although this could change as the holiday season begins.

The director of Rosalind Franklin Institute Professor James Naismith stated that while it might spread faster, it won’t arrive until it does. If it spreads slower, however, we know from experience the lessons it learned in all previous versions.

We shouldn’t be discouraged, vaccines work. So if your vaccinations haven’t worked, get one.

‘Secondly there are new medicines coming along… these will not be affected almost certainly by this mutation.

“We’ve made improvements in the way we manage this illness in hospitals, so although it is concerning it it isn’t doomsday.” 

Professor Finn stated that while I do not want to cause unnecessary anxiety, we must all be prepared for any change to the restrictions. 

This morning Mr Shapps spoke out to say that the Government will adopt a safety-first attitude towards the new variant.

Sky News: “It’s important that you act promptly and you can slow down potential entry into the country,” he said.

‘That gives us a bit of time for the scientists to work on sequencing the genome, which involves growing cultures – it takes several weeks to do – so we can find out how significant a concern this particular variant is.

It is safety first. That has happened before with mink varieties from Denmark, and it was able relax the situation fairly quickly. 

Chief medical advisor at UK Health Security Agency stated that the new variant was the most complex and concerning. 

Last night’s travel ban was announced by Mr Javid.

A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg, South Africa

As her mother gives her Pfizer vaccination against COVID-19 to her baby, a little girl in Diepsloot Township, near Johannesburg, South Africa, cries.

“Now we want to clarify that at the moment, no new variant of this virus has been detected in the UK. However, we are clear in our commitment to protecting the achievements we have made.

Within 48 hours of its discovery, the Covid super-mutant variant created panic worldwide. 

A national lockdown was announced today for the first time since last month. This is after panic at the threat of a virus mutant that has been unheard of only days before and could bring Britain back to square 1.

After discovering the strain among two South African passengers, researchers in Hong Kong raised the alarm on Monday.

It was also picked up in Botswana, where it was sequenced three times, and South Africa — who had only seen one case at the time. 

It was uploaded by scientists from three different countries to an international list of variants that is used worldwide, including the UK. 

Dr Tom Peacock, a British virologist at Imperial College London who works with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), voiced concern about the strain’s 32 ‘horrific’ mutations — twice as many as Delta — on Tuesday.

MailOnline first reported on the variant’s existence Wednesday. No10’s official spokesperson said that the issue was ‘not seen’ as such, even though there were fears it could be more vaccine evasive that Delta.

Experts told MailOnline the strain’s large amount of mutations meant it could become unstable — meaning it would be unlikely to become widespread — although others warned if it started taking over the dominant Delta variant in South Africa it could have knock-on effects for the rest of the world.

MailOnline has learned that there were secret talks between British scientists and South Africans on Wednesday and Thursday.    

The Guateng Province, South Africa, saw cases increase rapidly on Thursday. Johannesburg was the most affected, seeing them rise to 93% in just one day. 

The South African Government held a press conference on Thursday, saying that they are ‘concerned by the jump in evolution in this variant’.  

British ministers were summoned to an emergency meeting at the Covid Operations Cabinet Committee chaired Thursday by Steven Barclay, Cabinet Office minister, in order to discuss the possibility of closing Britain’s borders to African travelers. 

They were told vaccines would be at least 40 per cent less effective against the variant — because of a mutation it shares with the original South African Beta variant — at the meeting.

Sajid Javid was the Health Secretary. Boris Johnson (the housing minister) and Michael Gove did not attend the meeting.

The UKHSA chief Dr Jenny Harries and Professor Chris Whitty of England raised concerns about the creation of this unit.

Sources within the Government said that Whitty and other experts had advised them to take action. They wanted it out as soon possible.

Sources claimed that they were acting with an overabundance to be cautious. This issue was only brought to the attention of No10 by Wednesday. Sources claim that they have made more progress than previous decisions. 

After the briefing, UK Government officials gave an update to media members at a last-minute press conference at 7.45pm.

“What we’ll do is suspend all flights to six countries in southern Africa from midnight tomorrow, and then add these countries to our travel red list. 

These are South Africa and Namibia. Anyone arriving from these countries will have to be quarantined in hotels starting at 4am Sunday.

“If someone arrives after that time, they should self-isolate at their home and do a PCR test day two or eight. We ask anyone arriving from these countries in the past 10 days to do PCR testing.

Minister added that scientists were deeply concerned by this variant. That’s why we took this action today.

Asking Mr Javid what his thoughts were on the UK’s situation in the next weeks as Christmas approaches, he said that: “We’ve got plans in order, as people understand, for spreading this disease here in Britain and we have contingency planning – the so called Plan B.

“But today’s announcement is about a variant from South Africa. It’s been detected both in South Africa, Botswana. This is all about being careful and taking actions to try and protect our borders as much as possible. 

South African scientists add, however, that they are concerned by the ‘jump in evolution in this variant. 

His statement was that further research is needed in order to determine how serious the variant is. He added: “From what we know, there are a substantial number of mutations. Perhaps twice the amount that we saw in the Delta variant.

“That suggests that it could be more transmissible than the vaccines currently available and may make them less effective.

Naledi Pandor South Africa’s Foreign Minister stated in a statement this morning that the UK decision to ban flight’seems to be rushed.

She explained that South Africa respecteds other countries’ right to take necessary precautionary measures in order to protect its citizens. However, the UK’s decision temporarily to ban South Africans entry to the UK seemed rushed. The World Health Organisation still has not provided guidance on next steps.

“Our immediate concern is that of the potential damage this decision could cause for both tourism industry and business in both countries.

Although the variant is not currently considered a ‘variant or concern’ by the UK Health Security Agency, a senior UKHSA expert stated that it was the ‘worst variant’ he had seen.

There have only been 59 cases confirmed in South Africa and Hong Kong.

There are more than 30 variants of this variant, almost twice as many in the Delta version. This could increase its transmissibility and possibly evade vaccinations or prior infections.

According to the expert who helped initiate the first coronavirus lockdown, the decision not to place travel restrictions on the affected individuals was prudent.

Neil Ferguson, a member in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was quoted as saying: “The B.1.1.529 [Omicron]Variant has an unimaginable number of mutations within the spike protein gene. This protein is what most vaccines target.

“There’s a possibility that this variant might have more potential to escape previous immunity than the other variants.

“It’s also alarming that this variant seems to be driving an increase in South African case numbers. It is prudent for the Government to limit travel between South Africa and South Africa.

We don’t have any reliable data on the impact of B.1.1.529. [Omicron]This virus could be resistant or transmissible to vaccines. It’s still too early to give an evidence-based assessment on the risks it presents.

Experts from the UKHSA have been advising ministers on the issue, with a number of scientists expressing serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.

According to one senior scientist, “One of our main concerns is that this virus spike protein is so drastically different from the virus spike in the original Wuhan strain and thus in vaccines that it is causing great concern.”

South African officials are being accompanied by experts from WHO (World Health Organization) on Friday as they assess the state of the country’s health.

This variant might eventually get the moniker “Nu” – the most worrying variants being named after the Greek alphabet.

At the end of the month, the original Red List had been reduced to zero countries when seven more were removed.

No10 has left it open for the return of the traffic light system, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirming last month that many hotel rooms remain on-hand in quarantine.

UKHSA stated that it was in close contact with South Africa scientists regarding the proposed variant, but said the situation is still evolving.

It has been found in at least 100 cases, but it’s already present in 3 countries. This suggests that it may be more common than what is officially reported.

Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong – both of whom had links to South Africa –three have been picked up in Botswana and the remainder are in South Africa.

Scientists warned that a failure to monitor the continent could lead to an underestimation of its true population. 

Experts in the UK say they will need to wait for two to eight more weeks before they are able to study the variant sufficiently to determine if it’s infectious or resistant to vaccines.

After the first detection of this variant in neighboring Botswana in November 11, infections have risen tenfold in South Africa, from 100 per person to 1,100.

Scientists from the UK believe that it could infect patients who have been previously infected. This is because South Africa’s natural immunity makes it very easy to spread.

35% of adult vaccine recipients have had at least one dose. Only 41% of those who are fully vaccinated have been vaccinated.

Today’s press conference was rushedly organized by the South African Government. They revealed that the variant has been officially detected in three provinces, but they warned it is likely to be in nine.

UK experts called earlier for travel restrictions to apply to the strain to avoid it being seeded in this country and to reduce the risk of a similar situation as in India, where the Delta variation was introduced in great numbers.

Zero-Covid scientist Professor Christina Pagel urged ministers to ‘get ahead of this right now’ by immediately’ reimposing the red travel list ‘ — which was only scrapped a few weeks ago.

Chris Snowdon, an economist normally supportive of less restrictions, called for an immediate ban on travel.

Although the government has not yet confirmed the return of the famous traffic light travel system, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated last month that there were hundreds upon hundreds of hotels still ready for quarantine. 

MailOnline raised the alarm yesterday about this variant, after British scientists had warned it has more than 30 mutations. It is also the most developed version of Covid. They said it likely emerged in a long-term infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.

Scientists say that South Africa is the country with the highest HIV prevalence. This has made it more difficult to fight Covid.  

Official data revealed that Britain’s Covid daily cases started to decline yesterday after several weeks of declining deaths and hospitalisations. The percentage leap was lower than one for the first time since November 10th. 

Francois Balloux is a University College London geneticist who said that the variant could quickly become dominant in South Africa.

MailOnline asked him if it would soon account for the majority of South African cases. He replied: “The numbers.” [of cases]It is very tiny and it has a lot more uncertainty, but I think it could become very dominant quickly.

It was plausible that this variant could infect more people than the previous one, as it is more likely to cause infection.

He said that it is not known how likely someone would become seriously ill or die from the virus if they catch the variant. Experts believe viruses usually become less dangerous over time. 

Tulio De Oliveira is a Director of Covid Surveillance in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He said the variant has spread quickly in South Africa.

“In just two weeks, it has taken over all infected areas following the devastating Delta Wave in South Africa.

“We believe that Gauteng has at least 95% of all cases (at most 1,000 per day). [are this variant].’