New variant: UK adds African countries to ‘red’ quarantine list


Travellers arriving in England and Scotland from several southern African countries will have to quarantine amid warnings over a new coronavirus variant.

Travellers arrive at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in west London on 2 August, 2021 as quarantine restrictions ease.

Travellers arrive at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in west London on 2 August after quarantine restrictions were eased. Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP

One expert described the variant, known as B.1.1.529, as “the worst one we’ve seen so far”, and there is concern it has the potential to evade immunity.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said from 12pm (local time) on Friday, six countries would be added to the red list, with flights being temporarily banned.

All flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini were being suspended.

Non-UK and Irish residents will be banned from entering England if they have been in the six countries in the past 10 days. British or Irish residents arriving from those countries after 4am on Sunday would have to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning before that being asked to isolate at home.

Those who had returned in the last 10 days were being asked to take a PCR test by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

No cases of the new variant have been confirmed in the UK. Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.

Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” about the new variant but more needed to be learned about it.

He said the variant has a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

“That would suggest that it may well be more transmissible and the current vaccines that we have may well be less effective.”

He said adding the six countries to the red list was about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders”.

The flight ban will remain in place until the hotel quarantine system is up and running.

All the countries that remained on the UK’s red travel list were removed in October.

Each UK nation sets its own policy but they have generally followed the same rules for past announcements.

Scotland is following the UK government’s decision, with anyone arriving from the six countries having to self-isolate and take two PCR tests, while hotel quarantine will be in place from 4am Saturday.

Currently people travelling to the UK who are fully vaccinated do not need to take a Covid test before setting off but do need to take a lateral flow test two days after arrival and fill out a passenger locator form.

Those who are not fully vaccinated and are over 18 must self-isolate at home for 10 days and take a Covid test in the three days before travelling as well as on day two and day eight of their return.


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