Posted: Monday, December 21, 2020. 4:05 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes : Days before it is set to formally leave the European Union (EU), an urgent COVID-19 crisis has forced several European countries and others to restrict or ban travel from the United Kingdom following the announcement of a highly infectious new strain of Sars-Cov2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
Reuters news agency reports that countries from India to France to Canada have suspended travel from Britain, while Middle Eastern countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned over the weekend that a mutated variant of the virus, up to 70% more transmissible, had been identified in the country, causing fresh panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain, and throwing doubt only months before vaccines are expected to be widely available.
Johnson canceled Christmas plans for millions of British people on Saturday due to the more infectious strain of the coronavirus, though he said there was no evidence that it was either more lethal or caused a more severe illness. The new variant, which scientists said was 40%-70% more transmissible, is rapidly become the dominant strain in parts of southern England, including London.
Experts tracking the new strain said there was some early but unconfirmed evidence that it could transmit as readily among children as among adults, unlike previous dominant strains that appeared to be more easily able to infect adults.
In the United States, one of the few countries yet to act, Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir said nothing had yet been decided on any travel ban. But New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo urged “swift action” as if one person with the variant gets on a plane and lands in New York City, it would add fresh pain to the country with the most COVID-19 deaths, now almost 318 thousand.
EU officials met via video link to coordinate their response to the new strain of the coronavirus. The bloc is on course to start COVID-19 vaccinations within a week after its medicines regulator approved the use of a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday.
Experts said there was no evidence that vaccines would not protect against this variant, but added they were working around the clock to determine whether the mutations would affect how well the shots guarded against infection.
“Since the three vaccine forerunners target the spike protein, how the variant responds to the vaccines and the protection that the vaccine will offer does still need to be examined in detail,” said Saad Shakir, a professor, and director at Britain’s drug safety research unit.
France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe, causing at least one British supermarket chain to warn of shortages to come of key products such as lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli, and citrus fruit.
Cases of the new strain have also been in detected in some other countries, including Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands.
Australia said two people who traveled from the United Kingdom to New South Wales, its most populous state, were carrying the mutated virus. It axed dozens of domestic flights while New South Wales locked down more than 250,000 people, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to say: “2020 is not done with us yet.”
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