We have added more countries to the red list after a new COVID-19 variant was detected for the first time in the UK.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia are now being added to the travel ‘red list’ from 4am on Sunday.
This comes after the government on Friday banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Mr Javid said: “We have always been very clear that we will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.
“If anyone has traveled to any of these four countries in the last 10 days or to any of the red-listed countries recently, they should self-isolate and undergo a PCR test.”
The new COVID variant was detected in parts of southern Africa and has now been designated a type of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The government has introduced travel restrictions during the Christmas period to reduce the risk of further domestic restrictions.
Sajid Javid warned on Friday that the Omicron variant “could pose a major threat to public health”.
“It may also affect the effectiveness of one of our major treatments,” he said.
He said the variant was of “huge international concern” and that it was “highly likely” that it had spread to other countries.
“We are concerned that this new variant may pose a substantial risk to public health. The variant carries an unusually large number of mutations,” he said.
The researchers say that although there are indications that the variant – which contains the combination of mutations that make it related – may be more transmissible, travel restrictions allow time for more data to be collected.
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “It is perhaps true, that it is a matter of buying time because of past experience.
“But I also think it’s a different circumstance than Delta and there might be some amount of control or at least some expectation of that timeline phase to last even longer.”
He said the situation was different because South Africa was able to quickly identify the variant and share its findings with the world.
Dr Barrett said: “I think we are certainly at an earlier point in this edition’s journey and so the things we do now could have at least a major impact in terms of Delta.”
Sharon Peacock is the Director of COG-UK and Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge.
She said: “I think it’s fitting that we give ourselves the time to both do laboratory experiments or discover the results of proprietary experiments from South Africa and also start real-world studies looking at vaccine efficacy , because this has big implications for how we plan if it reaches our shores.
“I agree and when you look at the behavior of Alpha and Delta, once a new form of anxiety comes up and it fits more than the previous version, it’s really hard to stop it from going to a country.” Maybe unless you have very, very strict lockdown rules, which we see in some countries.
“Buying time is important, and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular edition.
“It’s part of significant planning and preparation that I think is likely to air in the UK at some point, but it buys into that time.”