A new mutant strain of COVID-19 has hit European nations, especially the United Kingdom. Amid frenzy over the “out of control” virus, several countries across the globe have imposed travel bans on the UK, shortly after the new variant’s gravity was announced.
Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, adding that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.
However, there is no evidence yet that the new strain, which has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020), is deadlier. It is also unlikely that it would react differently to the new vaccines being offered, although it appears to be 70 percent more infectious, health experts point out.
Scientists in the UK first discovered the new variant in September. Tracing the urgency of the mutation, Susan Hopkins of Public Health England alerted the government in early December, revealing that it could be more transmissible.
“The virus had been found in all regions of England but in small numbers,” she said.
London and south-east England are witnessing rapid levels of the new strain while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced new carefully curated restrictions for these areas.
“Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out,” Hancock said.
How the world has reacted
Countries across the globe have begun banning travel with Britain as fears regarding the new mutation continue to heighten. The Netherlands was among the first to impose flight bans with the UK, stating that it would restrict travel till 1 January.
Kuwait, Bulgaria, Austria, Italy, Germany, Belgium also imposed bans and similar restrictions. Turkey has temporarily banned all flights from the UK along with Switzerland.
France and Ireland have announced flight suspensions with the UK for at least 48 hours.
A European council meeting is to be held today to discuss EU actions relating to the new order.
London’s Oxford Street, otherwise almost always bustling, was close to vacant on Sunday. There had been nationwide anger in the UK following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reversal of a previous pledge that eased restrictions. The new order calls for millions to cancel Christmas plans and stay inside their homes.