Ask Me Anything

Ask Covid data expert Tim White anything about the new Covid variant and travel red list

Ask Tim White what is likely to happen next now the red list has had countries added back onto it and a new variant is being considered a threat to the Covid vaccines’ effectiveness

Friday 26 November 2021 09:44
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<p>Travel restrictions have eased in recent months. (Andrew Matthews/PA)</p>

Travel restrictions have eased in recent months. (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today there are concerns the new coronavirus variant could “defeat the vaccine” and it has meant the travel red list has made a return.

Mr Shapps said there is apprehension about the “very fast” spread of the new variant and that ministers acted quickly to add six countries to the Government’s travel red list.

UK health officials sounded the alarm on Thursday night over the B.1.1.529 variant, which has the potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection.

It has led to South Africa Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe all being added to the red list meaning hotel quarantine for those travelling from those countries to the UK will be required again.

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.”

The variant, which descends from the B.1.1 lineage, has an “incredibly high” number of mutations, experts say, with fears that it is highly transmissible and effective at evading the body’s immune response.

The World Health Organisation relies on the Greek alphabet to name new variants of concern, which means B.1.1529 could eventually be called Nu, as this is the next available letter.

B.1.1529 has 32 mutations located in its spike protein. These include E484A, K417N and N440K, which are associated with helping the virus to escape detection from antibodies.

Another mutation, N501Y, which is found in the spike protein, appears to increase the ability of the virus to gain entry to our cells, making it more transmissible.

But what does this mean for infection rates around the world and what is likely to happen to travel restrictions over coming weeks?

Tim White, the Covid data analyst who tweets as @TWMCLtd, has trawled through the genomic sequencing records held by Gisaid, the worldwide database, with a focus on variants of concern.

He will be on hand to answer all your latest travel questions around the latest announcement and what might happen to the traffic light system in coming weeks during a live ‘ask me anything’ event being held on this page today (26 November).

Join Tim at 5pm today, 26 November, when he’ll be on hand to answer your travel questions about all the latest rules and restrictions live.

Register to submit your question in the Comments below. If you’re not already a member, click “sign up” in the Comments box to leave your question.

Don’t worry if you can’t see your question – they will be hidden until Tim joins the conversation to answer them.

Then join us live on this page from 5-6pm as he tackles as many as he can within an hour.

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