Don’t book holidays to EU, warns Prof Lockdown – we MUST keep South Africa variant out of UK

AN expert hinted Brits can't bet on EU summer holidays today – warning we must keep the South African variant out of the country.

Professor Neil Ferguson said “important decisions” are coming up as the Government eases the ban on international travel.

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He told of his fears on rising cases of the SA mutation ripping through Europe, with France seeing an estimated 1,500 infection a day.

The South African strain is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original coronavirus variant, meaning it spreads faster and is less easily controlled by typical Covid restrictions.

“Prof Lockdown” – whose research saw the UK plunged into lockdown – said Europe is seeing increasing levels of cases, albeit driven by the Kent variant.

“Perhaps more concern for the UK though is that some countries are notably seeing a significant fraction, 5-10 per cent of cases, of the South African variant”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

“When infection levels go up in France, 30,000 cases a day, that implies there’s at least 1,500-2,000 cases a day of the South African variant.

“That is the variant we really do want to keep out of the UK.”

The prof said it will be a "balancing act", suggesting European holiday plans could be in trouble if we want to keep the variant on the other side of the border.

He said: "How much we relax the current ban on international travel except for essential services (for example).

"As a lot of essential travel between ourselves and France for business, commerce and trade, how can we reduce the risks associated with that travel.

"Those are policy decisions, I’m just raising the issue that we are doing so well with the vaccination campaign, we are driving down deaths at a faster rate than I ever thought was possible and that will allow us to open up."

France, like much of Europe, is entering into a third wave of Covid amid a bungled vaccine rollout. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex finally called for a lockdown in Paris yesterday, after Covid patients were airlifted from Paris as hospitals reached breaking point.

Italy imposed new Covid restrictions on March 15 to slow another wave, while reporting around 22,000 cases a day. 

And in Germany – where fewer than 10 per cent of people are vaccinated – a lockdown imposed in December has been extended to the end of March.


At least 259 cases of the South African variant have been detected in the UK since it first entered in December.

Amid concern about new coronavirus variants, the Government introduced tougher border controls, including mandatory hotel quarantine if a person enters the UK from a “red list country”. 

When asked whether he thought France should be added to the red list, Prof Ferguson said: “I don’t think that’s necessarily a practical issue given the amount of trade.”

It comes after surge testing was deployed into another area in England to stop the spread of the South African strain.

In Sandwell, part of the DY4 postcode, including the Burnt Tree area, will have additional testing made available “to control and suppress the potential spread”, the Government said.

It came after one case of the variant was identified in the Sandwell area of the West Midlands.

Genomic sequencing is also being deployed to a targeted area, which takes in parts of both Tipton and Oldbury.

Health officials have been prompt to deploy blitz testing in areas where the South African strain are found through gene sequencing of tests.

Various mass testing programmes have been launched since December, with fewer than 300 cases found.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam explained case numbers of the variant in the UK are "very small" because it is not likely to become more dominant than the Kent strain – which accounts for almost all cases of Covid in the UK.

England's deputy chief medical officer was seeking to quell fears that vaccines would not work against the South African variant.

Studies have suggested that, if a vaccinated person catches the South African strain, the jab may not work as well to protect them from Covid.

For example, a study by the University of Oxford yesterday, found a nine-fold and 7.6-fold reduction in antibodies produced after the AstraZeneca jab and Pfizer jab, respectively, against the South African strain.

But experts say even if the current vaccines are weaker, they will still protect against severe disease or death by Covid.

It may just be that those who catch the virus suffer mild symptoms. 

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