Covid variant causing ‘huge international concern’ found in Belgium

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A worrying new variant of coronavirus has been found in Belgium as the UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there was “huge international concern” over the strain.

Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant B.1.1.529, which has been identified in other places including South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said: “We have one case of this variant that is confirmed. It’s someone who came from abroad.”

Marc Van Ranst, who works with the Rega Institute in Belgium, tweeted that a sample was confirmed as the variant in a traveller who returned from Egypt on November 11. The patient first showed symptoms on November 22.

Earlier, Mr Javid told the Commons that experience has shown “we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment”, adding there were concerns the variant may be more transmissible, make vaccines less effective and may affect one of the UK’s Covid treatments, Ronapreve.

He told MPs it was “highly likely” the B.1.1.529 variant had already spread from Africa to other countries.

The Government added South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the UK’s travel red list on Thursday evening.

Passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a Government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days. Downing Street urged anyone who has arrived from these countries recently to get tested.

Mr Javid said discussions are ongoing over the prospect of adding further countries to the red list, saying: “We are keeping this under review and there’s very live discussions going on about whether we should and when we might add further countries, and we won’t hesitate to act if we need to do so.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was “buying time” by adding countries to the list, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think all the history of coronavirus suggests that it is best to act quickly, determine the extent of the way that the virus interacts with vaccines, treatments, transmissibility and then give yourself a bit more time.

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