The South African government says the United Kingdom was hasty in its decision to put South Africa back on the country’s travel ban list.
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor says government will engage with British authorities to get them to reconsider their decision. South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organisation (WHO) working group on virus evolution to discuss the new variant.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries. South Africa will engage the UK government with the view to persuade them to reconsider this decision,” says Pandor.
DIRCO responds to Britain’s ban on travel from six southern African countries
International Relations Department Spokesperson, Clayson Monyela.
“Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s (United Kingdom) decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organisation is yet to advise on the next steps,” says International Relations Department Spokesperson, Clayson Monyela.
Other southern African countries that are on the Red List are Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The move follows the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, the B.1.1.529, in circulation.
Less than 100 samples have been identified so far and the World Health Organisation say it’s monitoring the new strain. The variant was also discovered in Hong Kong and Botswana.
UK flags concern over newly identified coronavirus variant
A newly identified coronavirus variant that has spread in South Africa is the most concerning that British health officials have yet seen as it has double the number of mutations of the Delta variant, including some associated with evading the immune response.
Britain announced it was temporarily banning flights from South Africa and five other countries from 1200 GMT on Friday and returning British travellers from those destinations would have to quarantine.
The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.
It has mutations that are likely to evade the immune response generated both by prior infection and vaccination, and also mutations associated with increased infectivity.
Lab studies are needed to assess the likelihood of the mutations resulting in greatly reduced vaccine efficacy, scientists said.
Officials have advised the government on the need to act swiftly and pre-emptively in case the concerns over the impact of variant are borne out, even though it could take weeks to generate all the information needed about its characteristics.
Earlier on Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected the new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and were working to understand its potential implications.