Coronavirus: Strain in Italy, Netherlands, Denmark... as far as Australia
Several European Union nations moved to ban flights from the UK on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of the coronavirus sweeping across southern England from establishing a strong foothold on the continent.
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all announced restrictions on UK travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted late on Saturday that it was “in close contact with UK officials on the new #Covid19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.
The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday. “What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19.
Van Kerkhove said the strain had been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.
Studies are under way to better understand how fast it spreads and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behaviour,” she added.
“The longer this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change,” she said. “So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent spread.”
British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until the last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.
Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said officials are concerned about the new variant because it contained 23 different changes, “an unusually large number of variants” affecting how the virus binds to and enters cells in the body. Officials aren’t certain whether it originated in the UK, Vallance added. But by December, he said it was causing over 60% of infections in London.
Italy on Sunday said it has detected a new coronavirus strain with mutations in a person who recently returned from the UK. “The patient and their partner returned from the United Kingdom several days ago, landing in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. They are now isolated and have observed, together with family and close contacts, all procedures proscribed by the health authorities,” said an Italian ministry’s statement, according to Sputnik.
South Africa has also announced that a new variant of the Covid-19 virus is driving the country’s resurgence of the disease, with higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths. According to officials in the country, the new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa’s current wave
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