BORIS Johnson could slap MORE countries on the travel ban list in a desperate bid to avoid a fresh lockdown this Christmas.
The Prime Minister is preparing to introduce further additions to the six countries added to Britain's red list on Friday in attempt to halt the arrival of a terrifying new Covid strain.
It's believed travel bans won't keep the new super-spreading Omicron variant out of Britain, but it's hoped they would delay the risk of a surge in cases until after the festive period.
Senior Government scientists said the mutant variant was the “worst variant they have seen so far” – with vaccines expected to be at least a third less effective against it.
Experts warn the strain is behind an explosion of new cases in South Africa, with some regions seeing a six-fold rise in infections in a matter of days.
Flights from South Africa as well Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe were suspended from midday on Friday and all six countries were added to the red list, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
Malawi and Mozambique are expected to be added to Britain’s red list imminently and there is acceptance in Whitehall that further bans are likely.
A senior aviation source said there were “serious jitters” in all corners of the industry, telling The Times: “There is now a massive question mark over Christmas.
"It is clear the red list will expand and that will have a massive knock on.”
It comes as fears of a second Christmas lockdown grow, with Prof Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, warning Brits to be "ready for the possibility of a change in the restrictions”.
Sajid Javid said the new variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and added “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.
Officials are also desperately trying to trace thousands who have arrived from South Africa in the past ten days.
Scientists said the new strain was unlikely to be in the UK, but with up to 700 people flying in a day, they could not rule it out.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, said it was "always possible" the variant had reached the UK.
Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme if it was in the UK, she said: "It's always possible, we have no cases identified whatsoever yet."
Currently called B.1.1.529, the bug has 32 mutations – twice as many as the delta variant.
As well as South Africa, it has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.
The World Health Organisation met on Friday to decide whether to classify the bug as an imminent threat.
WHO experts are likely to name the variant “Nu”, the next letter in the Greek alphabet, when they meet to discuss it.
Government scientists were this week spooked by the new strain, saying their main worry is the virus spike protein is “dramatically different” to the original Covid virus.
It means the vaccines and blockbuster new drugs will struggle to neutralise it – with optimistic estimates it will reduce efficacy by around a third.
This new variant seems to spread very quick
Dr Tulio de Oliveira, a top Covid tracker in South Africa, said it was “of great concern” and has quickly become the dominant strain.
He said: “This new variant seems to spread very quick.
“In less than two weeks it now dominates all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa.
“The new variant is now at 75 per cent of the last genomes and is soon to reach 100 per cent.”
At least 77 cases have been spotted in the country but many more have not been checked.
Virus scientists in the UK said it was the most worried they had been since Delta emerged.
They called for ministers to act immediately by stopping travel from southern Africa and developing new vaccines to tackle some of the mutations.
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