UK officials have put six countries on their red lists over a new coronavirus variant which scientists have described as "deeply concerning"
The B.1.1.529 variant, which could eventually be called Nu variant, was first identified on Tuesday, November 23, with a total of 59 samples being uploaded to a Covid-19 variant tracking website. Three of the samples are from Hong Kong, three from Botswana and the rest are from South Africa.
This new variant has spread fast and has prompted the UK government to suspend flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday on Friday, November 26.
Here's everything you need to know about the new Covid variant.
What is the new Covid variant?
The new Covid variant, known as the B.1.1.529 variant, may have potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection according to experts.
Likely to be termed Nu, following the use of Greek alphabets for concerning mutations, the variant has been called "complex" and "worrying" by Dr Susan Hopkins the chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.
With more than 30 different mutations, which is twice more than previously dominant Delta variant, this new variant could cause increased infection and transmissibility, Dr Hopkins told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.
She said : "It's a highly complex mutation, there's new ones we haven't seen before, so we don't know how they're going to interact in common," adding "It is the most worrying we've seen."
How is it different from the other Covid variants?
The 30 different mutations to the spike protein is what makes this particular strain so concerning. These mutations have features seen in all the other variants but also has traits that have not been seen before.
One senior scientist from the UK Health Security Agency explained: "One of our major worries is this virus spike protein is so dramatically different to the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, that it has a great cause of concern."
Should we be worried about the new Covid variant?
Though there are worries about how transmissible this variant is, for now there are no cases of the new variant detected in the UK, and it has not yet been named a "variant of concern."
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said in a series of tweets that it “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile”, but also said it that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.
The World Health Organisation has classified it as a "variant under monitoring".
Meanwhile, the government has added six South African countries to its red list, which had been reduced to zero in October, and have been working to trace people who have recently arrived from any of these countries so they can be tested.
Will the vaccine work against the new variant?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this new variant "may be more transmissible" than the Delta strain and "the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective". But it’s too early to say for sure.
UK scientists are eager to receive and examine live virus cultures, but the process to grow the virus can take at least seven to 10 days, after which it will have to be studied to find out how it mutates and changes.
Officials will also have to wait for data on the variant to come in South Africa, this can take anywhere between two to six weeks.
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