COVID Variant in UK Sparks Travel Restrictions

December 21, 2020 – A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus had been detected in the UK, leading Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shut down parts of the country and prompting other countries to impose travel and shipping restrictions on England .

Johnson was holding a crisis meeting with ministers on Monday on how to proceed following the announcement of Saturday’s shutdown. The Prime Minister said in a nationally televised address that this variant of the coronavirus could be ‘up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant’ and was likely responsible for an increase in cases in the southeast. from England.

“There is still a lot of things we don’t know. While we’re pretty sure the variant spreads faster, there’s no reason to believe it’s more deadly or causes more serious illness. Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will be less effective against the new variant, ”Johnson said.

Public Health England said it is working to learn as much as possible about the variant. “We know that mortality is a lagging indicator and we will need to continuously monitor this over the next few weeks,” the agency said.

This scientific uncertainty over the threat of the variant has rocked European countries rushing to ship goods to England before the December 31 Brexit deadline.

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands, members of the European Union, announced travel restrictions of varying severity a few hours after the Johnson’s speech.

These restrictions have created food uncertainty across the UK, which imports about a quarter of its food from the EU, according to the New York Times. Long lines of trucks heading for UK ports have stopped on main roads such as the M20 near Kent and the Port of Dover.

Outside of Europe, Canada, India, Iran, Israel, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have banned all inbound flights from the UK. And more bans could come.

The American reaction

The US has not placed any new limits on travel with the UK, although New York Governor Mario Cuomo has requested that all passengers to JFK from the UK be tested before boarding and that a new travel ban be imposed for Europe. He said the federal government must act now to avoid a crisis situation like New York’s in March and April.

“The United States has a number of flights from the United Kingdom every day and we have done absolutely nothing,” Cuomo said in a statement on the governor’s webpage. “For me, it’s reprehensible because that’s what happened in the spring. How many times in your life have you to make the same mistake before you learn? “

Top U.S. health officials have played down the dangers of the virus.

“We don’t know it’s more dangerous and, most importantly, we haven’t yet seen a single mutation that would allow him to escape the vaccine,” the US Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services said on Sunday for health Adm. Brett Giroir said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

“I can’t say it won’t happen in the future, but at the moment it looks like the vaccine will cover everything we see.” Giroir said HHS and other U.S. government agencies will monitor the variant.

“Viruses mutate,” he says. “We have seen almost 4,000 different mutations among this virus. There is no indication that the mutation they are currently talking about is to defeat England.

Where does the variant come from?

Public Health England said the variant of the coronavirus had been around in the UK since last September and had circulated at very low levels until mid-November.

“The increase in cases linked to the new variant first emerged at the end of November, when PHE was looking to determine why infection rates in Kent were not declining despite national restrictions. discovered a cluster linked to this variant spreading rapidly in London and Essex, ”the agency said.

PHE said there was no evidence the new variant was resistant to the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, which is now being administered nationwide to high-priority groups such as healthcare workers.

Online journal BJM Medical said the variant was first detected by Covid-19 Genomics UK, a consortium that is testing random genetic sequencing of COVID positive samples across the UK. The variant cases were mainly found in the south-east of England.

BJM Medical said a professor at the University of Birmingham said in a December 15 briefing that the variant accounted for 20% of viruses sequenced in Norfolk, 10% in Essex and 3% in Suffolk. “There is no data to suggest that it was imported from overseas, so it is likely that it evolved in the UK,” he said.

The variant is named VUI-202012/01, with the first “variant under investigation” in December 2020, BMJ said. It is defined by a set of 17 mutations, with the most significant mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.

“Changes in this part of the spike protein can, in theory, cause the virus to become more infectious and to spread more easily between people,” BMJ said.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control noted that the variant appeared during the time of year when people typically socialize a lot.

“There is no indication at this point of an increased severity of infection associated with the new variant,” the agency said. “To date, a few cases with the new variant have been reported by Denmark and the Netherlands and, according to media reports, in Belgium.”

Johnson announced tighter restrictions on the hardest hit areas of England, such as the south-east and east of England, where new cases of the coronavirus have continued to rise. And he said people need to cut back on their Christmas gatherings.

“In England, those who live in level 4 areas should not mingle with anyone outside their own homes at Christmas, although bubbles of support will remain in place for those who are particularly prone to loneliness or loneliness. ‘isolation,’ he said.

WebMD Health News


British Prime Minister. “December 19, 2020 (transcript of speech, as delivered)”

NYT. “Alarmed by reports of a new strain of coronavirus, nations are closing Britain’s doors.”

ABC News. “Transcript” This week “12-20-20: Adm. Brett Giroir, Senator Mark Warner and Jennifer Granholm”

Governor of New York. “Governor Cuomo calls on the federal government to take action following a highly contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus circulating in the UK”

UK Public Health Agency

BJM Medical. “Covid-19: a new variant of coronavirus is identified in the United Kingdom”

WebMD. “Blood gives clues as to why COVID is more severe on men”

European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. “Brief Threat Assessment: Rapid Rise of a SARS-CoV-2 Variant with Multiple Spike Protein Mutations Seen in UK”

The Guardian: “Boris Johnson holds briefing on Covid as talks with France on freight ban continue

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