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The United Kingdom is bringing in new travel restrictions for people coming from six African countries after a 'horrific' new coronavirus variant was detected.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected in Botswana and it has since spread to several other countries. It has 32 mutations in its spike protein, which could cause issues for people who are already vaccinated.
The spike protein is the part of the virus that the vaccine will use to get your immune system ready for an incoming virus. The more mutations means the less likely the antibodies in your system will be able to effectively fight the virus.
The UK's Health Secretary Sajid Javid has revealed they are putting South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini on the red list for travel restrictions.
That means, if you have travelled to that region or are coming directly from there and wish to come the UK then you will have to quarantine upon arrival.
The declaration will kick into gear at midday today (Friday, November 26).
"What we do know is there's a significant number of mutations, perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant," Secretary Sajid Javid said.
"And that would suggest that it may well be more transmissible and the current vaccines that we have may well be less effective."
He added that more studies would need to be done into the variant to determine just how bad it is.
Imperial College London virologist Dr Tom Peacock was one of the first people to raise the alarm about the B.1.1.529 strain and he shared his findings on a genome-sharing website.
He said the 'incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern'.
Health authorities have also detected the strain in Hong Kong, which has sparked even more concern that it might have already left Africa.
Dr Peacock is worried 'this might be more widespread than sequences alone would imply' and that 'the extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern'.
He added that the strain could 'be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about', including the Delta variant, which has wreaked havoc all across the globe.
While the virologist said the situation 'very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile', he's hoping it turns out to be an 'odd cluster' that doesn't seem too many transmissions.
The UK has moved quickly to make sure there isn't an outbreak of the new variant and researchers are racing to know more about the mutations.
Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, has been studying the 32 mutations of B.1.1.529 and discovered two of them are more infectious than the original virus.
They also found this new strain has reduced antibody recognition when it comes to vaccine effectiveness.
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