British health officials are saying that a newly identified coronavirus variant which has spread in South Africa has double the number of mutations of the Delta variant.
The new variant – called B.1.1.529 - has a spike protein that is significantly different to the one in the original coronavirus on which Covid-19 vaccines are based, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) said on Thursday.
Its mutations are liable to evade the immune response generated both by prior infection and vaccination. Also, it has mutations associated with increased infectivity.
Lab studies are essential to assess the likelihood of the mutations leading to greatly reduced vaccine efficacy, scientists said.
This comes after earlier on Thursday, South African scientists said they had found the new Covid variant in small numbers and that they are working to understand its potential implications.
The variant has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which are worrisome as they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it even more transmissible, the scientists told reporters at a news conference.
In addition to South Africa, the variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.
The HSA also said that no cases of the variant had been detected in the UK so far.
Six African countries to be added to UK Covid red-list
The UK said Thursday it will place six South African countries under red list travel restrictions due to concerns over the new Covid-19 variant, The Guardian reported.
The variant posed "a potentially significant threat to the vaccine program which we have to protect at all costs," Whitehall sources were quoted as saying in the report.
Britain's health minister Sajid Javid said on Thursday, "UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we're taking precautions now."
"From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travelers must quarantine," Javid said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the number of the Covid cases in the UK has passed 10 million, marking a grim milestone since the start of the pandemic.
According to official data released on Thursday, the number of people who tested positive in the latest round of daily figures was 47,240, taking the total number of infections to 10,021,497.
The data also showed about 10 percent increase in the number of cases reported between November 19 and November 25, in comparison with the previous seven days.