Dec. 21, 2020 — Researchers have detected a extremely contagious coronavirus variant in the UK, main Prime Minister Boris Johnson to close down elements of the nation and triggering different nations to impose journey and delivery restrictions on England.
Johnson held a disaster assembly with ministers Monday after Saturday’s shutdown announcement. The prime minister mentioned in a nationally televised tackle that this coronavirus variant could also be “as much as 70% extra transmissible than the previous variant” and was most likely accountable for a rise in instances in southeastern England.
“There may be nonetheless a lot we don’t know. Whereas we’re pretty sure the variant is transmitted extra rapidly, there isn’t a proof to recommend that it’s extra deadly or causes extra extreme sickness. Equally there isn’t a proof to recommend the vaccine can be any much less efficient towards the brand new variant,” he mentioned.
Public Well being England says it’s working to study as a lot concerning the variant as doable. “We all know that mortality is a lagging indicator and we might want to frequently monitor this over the approaching weeks,” the company says.
That scientific uncertainty concerning the variant’s risk shook European nations that had been speeding to ship items to England upfront of a Dec. 31 Brexit deadline. Underneath Brexit, which is brief for “British exit,” the UK will go away the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020. Till then, the 2 sides will provide you with new commerce and safety relationships.
European Union members Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Eire, Italy, and the Netherlands introduced journey restrictions hours after Johnson’s speech.
These restrictions created meals uncertainty throughout the U.Okay., which imports a couple of quarter of its meals from the EU, in response to The New York Occasions. Lengthy strains of vehicles heading to ports within the U.Okay. got here to a standstill on main roads such because the M20 close to Kent and the Port of Dover.
Exterior Europe, Canada, India, Iran, Israel, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey banned all incoming flights from the U.Okay. And extra bans may come.
The U.S. Response
The US has not imposed any new limits on journey with the UK, though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has requested all passengers sure for John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport from the U.Okay. be examined earlier than boarding and a brand new journey ban be positioned for Europe. He says the federal authorities should take motion now to keep away from a disaster state of affairs just like the one New York skilled in March and April.
“The US has a lot of flights coming in from the U.Okay. every day, and we’ve achieved completely nothing,” Cuomo mentioned in a press release on the governor’s webpage. “To me, that is reprehensible as a result of that is what occurred within the spring. What number of instances in life do it’s a must to make the identical mistake earlier than you study?”
Main U.S. well being officers have downplayed the hazards of the virus.
“We do not know that it is extra harmful and, very importantly, we’ve not seen a single mutation but that will make it evade the vaccine,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Well being and Human Companies Adm. Brett Giroir, MD, mentioned Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “I am unable to say that will not occur sooner or later, however proper now it seems just like the vaccine will cowl every part that we see.”
Giroir mentioned the Division of Well being and Human Companies and different U.S. authorities businesses will monitor the variant.
“Viruses mutate,” he mentioned. “We have seen virtually 4,000 completely different mutations amongst this virus. There isn’t any indication that the mutation proper now that they are speaking about is overcoming England.”
The place Did the Variant Come From?
Public Well being England says the coronavirus variant had existed within the U.Okay. since September and circulated at very low ranges till mid-November.
“The rise in instances linked to the brand new variant first got here to gentle in late November when PHE was investigating why an infection charges in Kent weren’t falling regardless of nationwide restrictions. We then found a cluster linked to this variant spreading quickly into London and Essex,” the company says.
Public Well being England says there’s no proof the brand new variant is immune to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is now being given throughout the nation to high-priority teams corresponding to well being care employees.
An article in The BMJ, a British medical journal, says the variant was first detected by Covid-19 Genomics UK, a consortium that checks the random genetic sequencing of optimistic COVID-19 samples across the U.Okay. The variant instances had been largely within the southeast of England.
A College of Birmingham professor mentioned in a Dec. 15 briefing that the variant accounts for 20% of viruses sequenced in Norfolk, 10% in Essex, and three% in Suffolk. “There aren’t any information to recommend it had been imported from overseas, so it’s prone to have advanced within the U.Okay.,” he mentioned.
The variant is called VUI-202012/01, for the primary “variant underneath investigation” in December 2020, BMJ says. It’s outlined by a set of 17 mutations, with essentially the most vital mutation within the spike protein the virus makes use of to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.
“Modifications on this a part of spike protein could, in principle, end result within the virus turning into extra infectious and spreading extra simply between folks,” the article says.
The European Centre for Illness Prevention and Management says the variant emerged through the time of 12 months when folks normally socialize extra.
“There isn’t any indication at this level of elevated an infection severity related to the brand new variant,” the company says. “A couple of instances with the brand new variant need to date been reported by Denmark and the Netherlands and, in response to media reviews, in Belgium.”
Johnson introduced tighter restrictions on England’s hardest-hit areas, such because the southeast and east of England, the place new coronavirus instances have continued to rise. And he mentioned folks should reduce on their Christmas socializing.
“In England, these residing in tier 4 areas shouldn’t combine with anybody outdoors their very own family at Christmas, although assist bubbles will stay in place for these at specific threat of loneliness or isolation,” he mentioned.