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FirstFT: Southern African countries put on UK travel red list over Covid variant

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The UK will place six southern African countries back on its red list of travel restrictions after a surge in cases of a heavily mutated coronavirus variant caused alarm among global health officials.

Travellers returning from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini will be forced to quarantine for 10 days at a government facility from midday today, government officials said.

Direct flights from the six countries will be banned from midday today until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am on Sunday.

There is mounting concern among scientists over the ability of the B. 1.1.529 Sars-Cov-2 variant, first identified in Botswana, to evade vaccines and transmit faster than the Delta variant.

The new restrictions sent the South African rand down as much as 1.3 per cent to R16 against the US dollar — the currency’s weakest level in a year.

Thank you for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. Here is the rest of today’s news — Jennifer

1. UK taxpayer left exposed to gas price swings Taxpayers will be left exposed to any rises in wholesale gas prices, potentially adding hundreds of millions of pounds to the £1.7bn already committed to propping up Bulb Energy by the government.

  • Opinion: The mistake was capping retail prices while allowing companies chasing growth to take huge amounts of commodity price risk that was in effect backstopped by the state, writes Brooke Masters.

2. Criminal prosecutors review Deutsche Bahn fraud allegations Public prosecutors in Stuttgart are assessing fraud allegations raised by the two whistleblowers. If they conclude there is reasonable suspicion of potential criminal conduct, they can launch a criminal investigation under German law.

3. UK and France vow increased co-operation after migrant tragedy French president Emmanuel Macron has called for accelerated attempts by France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to stop people-trafficking operations after 27 people drowned off Dunkirk. But a stronger security response might not be enough to stem the surge, analysts say.

4. Spain passes biggest budget in its history Spain’s chamber of deputies has approved the biggest budget in the country’s history after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez won the support of a Catalan pro-independence party in return for a deal setting a quota for regional languages on digital platforms such as Netflix.

5. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi barred from Libya’s presidential poll Libya’s electoral body has barred the son of the late dictator from contesting the oil-rich north African state’s election, citing his convictions.

Analysts suggested it was unlikely that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s disqualification would lead to fresh instability
Analysts suggested it was unlikely that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s disqualification would lead to new instability © EPA

Coronavirus digest

  • The World Trade Organization’s head has warned that highly-charged talks on an intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines are “stuck”.

  • Airlines are bracing for a surge of infections in Europe, with Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary forecasting a “fraught period” over the next month.

The days ahead

Black Friday Thanksgiving is followed by the consumer frenzy, now an international event, providing a reading of the health of the retail sector.

WHO emergency meeting over variant The World Health Organization will discuss a new coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa and Botswana, that is believed to be spreading faster than thought.

Economic indicators Huw Pill, the Bank of England’s chief economist, is due to deliver a speech on the UK’s economic outlook. France will release consumer confidence data and Switzerland will release third-quarter gross domestic product figures.

French fisherman strike Fishermen will blockade three French ports and prevent freight trucks going through the Channel Tunnel to protest against the UK’s failure to grant licences to some of their vessels after Brexit.

London’s Night Tube returns Parts of the service, which was suspended at the start of the UK’s first pandemic lockdown, will return tomorrow. The capital relies on good public transport, mayor Sadiq Khan noted in this FT op-ed.

  • Not everyone is happy: Drivers on five underground lines are set to hold a major strike for 24 hours from 4.30am today, in a dispute over work-life balance.

What else we’re reading to

The Saudi-backed plan to shake up golf Inspired by cricket’s Indian Premier League, LIV Golf Investments, a company owned by the $450bn Saudi sovereign wealth fund, aims to lure the world’s best golfers to a string of tournaments and challenge the sport’s power structures.

Abortion and the American divide The Supreme Court decided this summer not to block a Texas law that offers private citizens a bounty to bring lawsuits against anyone who helps with an abortion after a “foetal heartbeat” can be detected. Katie Roiphe asks, how did it come to this?

What the ‘big quit’ tells us about inflation The pandemic has seen even more people decide that the labour market is not for them. But if resignation rates tell a clear story, the message from overall labour market participation is much more subtle, writes Chris Giles.

The logical case for employing reverse logic What problems could we fix by doing the exact opposite of what one might expect? Here’s a thought: environmentalists should fight climate change by buying coal mines, then shutting them down. Tim Harford takes a look at other reversals of logic.

Tim Harford: ‘Obvious and direct changes unleash indirect and less-than-obvious consequences’
Tim Harford: ‘Obvious and direct changes unleash indirect and less-than-obvious consequences’ © Anna Wray

Chess faces a stalemate Is there much pleasure left in watching two humans play championship chess? Artificial intelligence has heightened the game’s old fear of “draw death”, where the game is analysed to the degree that wins disappear, writes John Gapper.

Books

From politics, economics and history to art, food and, of course, fiction — FT writers and critics pick their favourite reads in our annual round-up of publishing highlights. You can browse their choices here.

© Cat O’Neil

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