Scientists have expressed their concerns over a new Covid-19 variant that has originated in South Africa.

Around 50 cases have been found in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana but there are growing concerns it could spread quickly surpassing the now-dominant Delta variant. 

It is also spreading quickly in South Africa because only around 24 percent of the population are vaccinated. 

Senior scientists have described the variant, named B.1.1.529, as the worst they have seen.

Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain on Friday November 26, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said: "We now need to wait and see just what kind of threat this new variant may pose.

“If we’re lucky, it won’t be a serious one, but it could be very serious.”

Does the new variant make vaccines less effective?

There are worries that the new variant will make vaccines less effective. 

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme the new variant will “almost certainly” make the vaccines less effective however he stressed that the variant is "not doomsday". 

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told BBC Breakfast the key thing for the UK was whether the variant would send the reproductive value (the R) significantly above one, or would potentially lead to higher numbers of hospital admissions.

He encouraged people to go out and get their vaccines and boosters to ensure they are protected. 

In a bid to control the spread of the new variant, six countries have been placed on the UK's red list.

What travel restrictions have been imposed? 

Speaking on Sky News on November 26, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "It is important to make sure that you do act immediately and in doing so you get to slow things down in terms of potential entry into the country.

“That gives us a bit of time for the scientists to work on sequencing the genome, which involves growing cultures – it takes several weeks to do – so we can find out how significant a concern this particular variant is."

The updated red list comes into force at midday on Friday November 26 and there is a temporary ban on all direct commercial and private flights from the affected countries to allow the government to set up the quarantine hotels. 

  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Namibia
  • Zimbabwe

The ban will remain in place until 4am Sunday November 28.

In addition, anyone who has been in these countries and arrive in England between midday on Friday and 4am on Sunday will have to quarantine at home or other suitable accomodation. 

Those who have been in the six countries within the last 10 days, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on day two and day eight, even if they already have a lateral flow test booked.