The new coronavirus variant is the most significant scientists have discovered so far, a top UK health official has said.
Scientists fear the variant – known as B.1.1.529 – could be more transmissible and better able to evade vaccines.
Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says: “This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility.”
She says scientists are looking into “what public health actions may limit the impact of B.1.1.529”.
The UK is rushing in strict travel restrictions for South Africa and five neighbouring countries to halt the spread of the new strain.