The UK’s Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock at the end of December, moved to ban travel between the two countries, citing the second variant as a key concern.
“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant. That’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, and movement from South Africa, and to insist that anybody who’s been to South Africa self isolates,” he said in an interview this week.
“This is a very significant problem. In fact, I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas, and one of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability, to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”
Denmark has also included South Africa on its list of ‘banned countries’. “The entry ban for foreigners who do not reside in Denmark and travel from South Africa is in place from 6 January 2021 until and including 17 January 2021,” it said.
Other countries which currently have restrictions in place on South Africa include Israel and Turkey.
Countries such as the Netherlands and Ireland had initially blocked travel but are now allowing South African travellers limited access provided they can supply a negative PCR test on arrival.
A variant of the SARS-COV-2 Virus (Covid-19) – currently termed the ‘501.V2 Variant’ – was identified by genomics scientists in South Africa and formally announced by government late in December 2020.
Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health, said a genomics team, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform has sequenced hundreds of samples from across the country since the beginning of the pandemic in March. A particular variant has increasingly dominated the findings of the samples collected in the past two months.
Meanwhile clinicians have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture- in particular that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness. Evidence suggests that the second wave of infections is largely due to this new variant.
Scientists are not fully confident that Covid-19 vaccines will work on new strains of the coronavirus found in South Africa, ITV’s political editor said on Monday.
“According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African Covid-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK’s variant,” ITV political editor Robert Peston said.
Hancock said that the second variant will make life ‘much harder’ as it makes it more difficult to control the spread of the coronavirus due to the variant spreading much faster.