The UK government has announced a ban on travel from South Africa after two positive cases of a new COVID-19 variant were detected in the country.

Britain is already dealing with another strain of the virus, which meant that a travel ban was critical to prevent further domestic infection.

“As part of our surveillance, and thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we have detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK,” the UK’s Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock said earlier on Wednesday.

“Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks,” Hancock noted.

The country’s Department of Transport said that as the UK does not currently have a travel corridor with South Africa, anyone who has returned from the country recently should already be self-isolating for 10 days and should continue to do so.

“Any exemptions usually in place – including for those related to employment – will not apply and passengers arriving in England from South Africa after 9 pm on 23 December cannot be released from self-isolation through Test to Release,” it added.

In addition, people who share a household with anyone self-isolating after returning from South Africa will now also need to self-isolate until 10 days have passed since anyone they live with was last in South Africa.

Furthermore, British and Irish Nationals, visa holders, and permanent residents who are arriving from South Africa will be required to show a complete passenger locator form on arrival into the UK.

“The Home Office will step up Border Force presence to ensure that those arriving to England from South Africa are compliant with the new restrictions,” the department said.

“The ban and expanded self-isolation measures will be kept under review,” it added.

The department advised that Britons in South Africa should continue to check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel advice and sign up to email alerts.

South Africa’s COVID-19 variant

Health Minister Zwele Mkhize recently announced that a variant of the SARS-COV-2 Virus (COVID-19) – currently termed the ‘501.V2 Variant’ – was identified by genomics scientists in South Africa.

In addition, clinicians have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture – in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness.

The evidence that has been collated strongly suggested that the current second wave the country is experiencing is being driven by this new variant.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim said the second wave shows signs of spreading faster than the first wave of COVID-19.

“We would expect it to be a less severe virus, but we do not have clear evidence at this point. We have not seen any red flags looking at our current death information,” he said.

“We had all of these different strains routinely spreading in South Africa during our first wave and subsequently. What became quite different that we did not expect is the rapid way in which this variant has become dominant in South Africa,” Karim added.

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