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UK, Israel place South Africa on red list over COVID-19 mutant variant

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The UK and Israel have placed a temporary ban on flights from South Africa and five other African countries over worries about a newly identified COVID-19 variant. 

In the UK, the travel restrictions would go into effect on Friday to help keep the spread of the new variant in check, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. 

Mr Javid stated that the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective.”

The six countries will be placed on the UK’s red list on Sunday, requiring travellers to quarantine in hotels upon arrival. They include Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique and South Africa. 

The variant was identified by a virologist at Imperial College London. Scientists raised concerns over the recently identified B.1.1.529 mutant variant. The variant has the potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection.

Though there have been no recorded cases of the new variant in the UK, officials have raised concerns over a rapid rise in cases in South Africa, which has confirmed around 100 specimens as B.1.1.529. The variant was also found in Botswana and Hong Kong, where the patient was a traveller from South Africa.

After consultation with public health personnel in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered an immediate halt to all flights to and from South Africa and its neighbouring countries. 

Individuals returning from these countries will be required to take a seven-day mandatory quarantine at a state-run facility, regardless of vaccination status. They will be released only after two negative PCR tests, and passengers who refuse to get tested will have to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

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