Britain said on Thursday it would ban travel from six southern African countries, after South Africa detected a new variant of Covid-19 with a large number of mutations.
“The first indication we have of this variant is that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Javid said the new variant, which South Africa attributed to an increase in cases and which had also been detected in travelers from the country in Botswana and Hong Kong, had so far not been found in Britain.
But he said British scientists were “deeply concerned” and, as a precautionary measure, it had been decided to suspend all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana from 1200 GMT on Friday.
“We will require anyone arriving from those countries after 4:00 am on Sunday to quarantine themselves in hotels,” he added.
“If someone arrives earlier, they should isolate themselves at home and have a PCR test on day two and day eight.
“And if someone has arrived from any of those countries in the last 10 days, we will ask them to have PCR tests done.”
The UK has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19, with some 144,000 deaths since the outbreak began early last year.
Positive cases remain stubbornly high: More than 47,000 were recorded in a 24-hour period through Thursday, but more than 80 percent of people 12 and older have received a double vaccine.
Almost 29 percent have received a third booster dose, as part of a government campaign to ease pressure on struggling health services during the winter months when other seasonal respiratory infections are high.
Britain’s government was widely criticized for its travel and quarantine policy early in the pandemic, when it kept its borders open to foreign travelers even as infection rates soared.