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Red list countries UK: places on travel list including Nigeria and South Africa - and rules explained

A new variant of Covid-19 that’s been described as ‘horrific’ has been found in a number of countries in southern Africa

The news that a “horrific” new Covid-19 variant has been discovered has sparked fears that Christmas could once again be cancelled.

Experts have warned the tougher restrictions seen in the various UK lockdowns may have to return as the coronavirus mutation could render vaccines ineffective, putting many lives at risk.

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Some restrictions have already been brought back by the UK Government, included a swathe of new travel rules and the resurrection of the dreaded travel Red List.

But which countries have been added to the list, what will it mean - and what do we know about the new Covid variant?

Here’s what you need to know.

Travellers landing in the UK from countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe will have to book into a quarantine hotel (image: Shutterstock)

What is the new Covid-19 variant?

The new B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant, officially named the Omicron, is understood to be “heavily mutated”.

Despite having only been tracked for a short time, the virus has already been found to have at least 30 different mutations - twice as many as the Delta variant.

These evolutions contain features seen in all the other variants but also traits that have not been observed before.

One of the most significant areas of mutation has been to the virus’s spike protein - the part of the virus that essentially acts as a battering ram to break into a cell’s defences.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, described it as “very different” to other variants, such as the Delta variant.

He said that it has “an unusual constellation of mutations”, adding: “This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump on evolution and many more mutations that we expected.”

Scientists believe that this new variant may be the most transmissible yet and might also render vaccines ineffective, given it is considered to be very different to the original Covid-19 virus found in Wuhan, China.

In South Africa, the mutant virus appears to be passing quickly from person to person.

One senior scientist said: “If we look at the results they had up to a week ago, less than 1% of people were testing positive in lots of areas.

“That’s increased very dramatically in some parts to 6% in the last few days, and so that makes me concerned quite rapidly on people that may be arriving [in the UK] now.”

The new variant of Covid-19 has mutations to its spike protein, which could make vaccines less effective (image: Shutterstock)

However, while there is a lot of concern, scientists say the new form of the virus may also turn out to be less transmissible and not as deadly as first feared.

It is expected more will be known about it by the beginning of 2022.

At the moment, the UK Government believes there are no UK cases.

The B.1.1.529 strain was officially named Omicron by the World Health Organisation.

What does the red list mean?

The travel Red List is a remnant of the traffic light system of travel restrictions the UK Government introduced for England in May 2021.

This system was scrapped in September, with only the red list remaining.

Fully vaccinated people can fly freely into the country from destinations not on this list, but must do a lateral flow test on the second day after their arrival.

The UK travel Red List consists of countries which have high cases of Covid or variants of concern and was implemented to prevent Covid-19 from being imported into the UK.

Holidaymakers and other arrivals from red list countries are required to quarantine for ten days in a Covid hotel, costing £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

Which countries are on the red list?

Ten African nations are currently on the red list. These are:

  • Angola
  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

The government has now extended this list to include Nigeria, which will be added from 4am on Monday (6 December).

All travellers returning to the UK from any of these destinations will be required to book and pay for a stay at a Government-approved quarantine hotel for 10 days.

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