A medical staff takes the temperature of a police officer during mass Covid-19 screening in Johannesburg in May.
"I've taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from South Africa from 9am tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus", Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
South Africa on Thursday reported 14,305 fresh cases taking the overall total to 968,563.
The African continent has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3% of global cases.
"We want to understand the risks around it as the foreign secretary has said, that there are also additional mutations in the South African variant compared to the variant in the United Kingdom in the moment and it is those addition mutations that our scientists want to investigate".
Britain's Matt Hancock said the variant in South Africa is "highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further" than the similar strain in Britain.
"We do need to think of additional restrictions, so that it's clear to people the seriousness of the current situation", infectious diseases expert Dr. Richard Lessells told The Associated Press.
Boxing Day sales looked to have suffered a sharp decline after Tier 4 measures came into effect on Saturday in large parts of England, with people ordered to "stay at home".
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"This is not correct".
"In other countries that do not have this capacity, it is quite possible that these variants are already in circulation, but now unidentified", he said. But Johnson stressed "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness", or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
As concern over a new strain of the COVID-19 in the United Kingdom rises, new travel restrictions have been put in place for those crossing the pond into the United States.
And according to the World Health Organization the variant has been detected in several countries including Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands.
At a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Hancock said: "This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the United Kingdom". "We'll be working throughout the whole holiday season on this research".
But Dr Tulio de Oliveira, an academic at KwaZulu Natal University and the man who led the work to identify the South African variant, was clearly unimpressed with other countries' reactions to the open sharing of data.
Nigeria has over 81,000 cases of the coronavirus, and has suffered over 1,200 deaths.