The United Kingdom is taking drastic measures to prevent the further spread of a new COVID-19 variant called B.1.1.529 that was recently detected in the country.
Besides suspending six flights from South African countries where small amounts of the new variant were detected, officials have also been attending meetings to discuss their battle plans. Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Botswana have also been banned from entering the United Kingdom.
On Friday, Sajid Javid, the United Kingdom's secretary of state for health and social care, announced the cancelation of flights following the World Health Organization's briefing on the new variant.
"More data is needed but we're taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travelers must quarantine," Javid said via CBS News.
COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 detected in three countries
According to reports, the B.1.1.529 variant rapidly spread through the Gauteng province, home to the country's largest area, Johannesburg. The B.1.1.529 variant has also been detected in Hong Kong and Botswana.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 technical lead at WHO, admitted that not much is known about the new variant. What is only known is that it has a large number of mutations that can impact how the virus behaves.
The United Kingdom Security Agency also said that the new variant has a spike protein dramatically different from the ones found in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said that B.1.1.529 is the most significant variant they have encountered ever since COVID-19 was first detected last year, according to Reuters.
The United Kingdom could have another lockdown
According to the BBC, the United Kingdom suffered another spike in their active COVID-19 cases at the end of October, recording 50,000 cases. Numbers have since dropped, but the seven-day average is still around 40,000, which has caused an alarm.
Javid said that authorities are still monitoring the situation in the island country. And he also encouraged those who are not yet vaccinated to get the jab immediately.
Two months ago, the health secretary also announced new measures that will be imposed if the NHS suffers unmanageable spikes in COVID-19 cases. These measures include mandatory COVID-19 passports, compulsory wearing of face masks, reverting to work from home set-up, and more.
Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of the possibility of getting into a hard lockdown in the winter. He also urged unvaccinated individuals to take responsibility and avoid fresh restrictions for the country.
When asked if a lockdown will undoubtedly take place around the holidays, Johnson said that the current data doesn't show the need for a lockdown. But the prime minister that the option has not been ruled out completely, according to Bloomberg.
Another lockdown in the United Kingdom will depend on the number of active cases, the deaths, and the need for the NHS.