A New Zealand immunologist says the new Covid-19 variant is likely to be even more transmissible than Delta.
Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa.
Speaking to 1News on Friday evening, Professor Graham Le Gros said the high number of mutations on the spike proteins meant it had more chance of the virus infecting someone.
"It needs far less virus particles to spread between people or to infect someone," Le Gros said.
"That's the concern."
Le Gros said scientists were scrambling to test whether the current Covid-19 vaccines were effective in combating the new variant.
"We'll just wait and see, we'll know very soon in a week I'm sure, and also how the virus spreads around the world. We're really worried about that as well."
Despite the concern, Le Gros believed there was no need for people to be alarmed at this stage, as so little was known about the new variant.
"I've seen no sign of people [infected with the new variant] being sicker, or makes you hospitalised worse or you're going to die.
"In fact a lot of the observations are this has just collected many of the mutations seen in the other virus strains, we just don't know why it works together."
Earlier Grant Robertson says the new Covid-19 variant hasn’t arrived into New Zealand yet.
“The first thing to make clear is that we’ve checked with the ESR and there is no variant of that nature that has come into New Zealand,” he said.
“The advice we’ve had at the moment is that it is a good example of why we need to be cautious, there’s no need at this point to be alarmed about it.”
Following the finding, the UK on Friday announced it would be bringing in an southern Africa travel ban, with six countries added to its red list.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Twitter more data was needed, but they were “taking precautions now”.
Robertson said there had not yet been any advice on a travel ban in New Zealand.
“But it quite clearly is evident, that this pandemic is not over.
“New Zealand’s response needs to be careful and methodical and cautious while this is happening."