Europe on High Alert After UK Identifies New COVID-19 Strain That Spreads More Quickly

European countries are banning all flights from the UK after it identified a new COVID-19 strain that health officials believe spreads more quickly.

Illustration of the human coronavirus.

Image via Getty/BSIP/Universal Images Group

Illustration of the human coronavirus.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Sunday that tighter restrictions would be put in place over the holiday season as a new more contagious strain of the coronavirus has resulted in a record number of daily cases, CNN reports.  

The United Kingdom will enter a Tier 4 lockdown, which requires many businesses to remain closed, and for people to stay at home unless for necessities. It will also forbid households from mixing on Christmas Day.  

According to CNN, France and the Republic of Ireland have suspended travel to and from the United Kingdom for the next two days. Belgium will not allow travelers from the UK to come into the country for 24 hours, and Italy's ban has no end date. Latvia and the Netherlands, meanwhile, will keep people from the UK out until next year. 

These new restrictions come after the United Kingdom reported a new high of 35,928 cases earlier today. The surge is being attributed to a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus, which accounts for 60 percent of infections in London alone. "The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus," Johnson said. "It appears to spread more easily and may be up to 70 percent more transmissable than the earlier strain." 

While this new information is alarming, UK health officials aren't hitting the panic button quite yet. England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, believes this new variant can be more easily transmitted, but it isn't more deadly and won't impact the effectiveness of the recently approved vaccine. "There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this," Whitty said. 

"The vaccines induce neutralising antibodies to several parts of spike ("epitopes") and most of these would be unchanged by the mutations -- so the vaccines will still work," Daniel Altmann, professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, said. 

Despite their somewhat encouraging initial findings, the government's COVID-19 scientific advisory group isn't taking this new threat lightly, treating this new strain as a "real cause for concern."

On Monday, Gov. Cuomo announced precautions for UK passengers flying to New York.

Starting tomorrow @British_Airways will require passengers on UK flights to NY to show a negative COVID test before departure.

We are in conversations with Delta and Virgin Atlantic to do the same.

We can't let history repeat itself with this new virus variant.

— Archive: Governor Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 21, 2020


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