Support 100 years of independent journalism.

The new “Nu” Covid variant is of our own making

The vaccine roll-out in the UK has been successful, but as long as global vaccination rates remain uneven, the potential remains high for worrying new variants.

By Stephen Bush

South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe have been placed on the United Kingdom’s red list, in a bid to prevent the new “Nu” variant of Covid. Returning travellers from those six countries will have to quarantine for ten days while further flights from these countries will be banned. Stock markets around the world have fallen on the news.

It’s a reminder of three neglected truths. The first is that in most of the world, Covid-19 has been far deadlier in 2021 than it was in 2020. The vaccine rollout in the UK has enabled us to escape that, but as long as global vaccination rates remain uneven, the potential remains high for worrying new variants such as Nu – which has many more mutations than Delta, and therefore may be able to escape the vaccine. Thirdly, as long as global vaccine rates remain uneven, global growth – and growth here in the UK – will continue to be constrained. The spectre of further lockdowns, while scientists work on improvements to existing vaccines, will never be fully eradicated. 

Video by Valeria Cardi

We’ve always known that in addition to being a moral imperative, ensuring equal access and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is in our economic and broader self-interest. Scientific innovation does mean that we will improve existing vaccines to combat new variants including Nu. But the failure of the rich world to ensure an equal supply of vaccines to the rest may well have to take a fresh toll upon the most advanced economies before that lesson is learned and acted upon.  

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas
Topics in this article: ,