Geopolitics

A new, more contagious COVID-19 strain has been reported in the UK. Is she on her way to the USA?

A The new strain of COVID-19 reported in the UK has been blamed for a sharp rise in cases, resulting in new lockdowns in London and more than 40 countries to ban cross-border travel from the UK

Although scientists say there is no evidence that the new strain is more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it could be up to 70% more communicable than others, while the Minister of Health said it was “out of control”.

At least 40 countries, including across the European Union and Canada, temporarily banned incoming travel from the UK as of Monday.

According to the British government, the new strain was discovered in Denmark, Australia and Gibraltar. According to media reports in Italy and the Netherlands.

But the US has not yet stopped incoming travelers from the UK or Europe – which has led to fears that they may have already crossed the Atlantic.

“Today this variant gets on a plane and lands at JFK,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on December 20, referring to New York’s busiest airport. “How many times in life do you have to make the same mistake before learning?”

Here’s what you should know about the new strain of the virus.

What do we know about the new COVID-19 strain?

According to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the strain was first discovered by scientists in early December. He first announced it on December 14, and said it played a prominent role in areas where the virus was spreading faster than expected.

A retrospective analysis found that the strain first appeared in the UK as early as September, according to government figures.

As of December 19, scientific advisors to the UK government said they had “moderate confidence” that the variant was more communicable than others based on several factors, including the exponential increase in infections despite lockdown measures. Genomic data suggest that portability is 71% “higher than other variants,” according to a summary published by UK government advisors.

Researchers now believe that a mutation in the genes that code for the COVID-19 spike protein, the part of the virus that attaches to human cells and enables infection, is likely to result in increased transmittability, according to a study published Dec. 18 leads.

However, what scientists know about the mutation in SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – continues to evolve as they collect more samples of the virus from cases around the world. Ongoing research means that studies are producing conflicting results as to whether certain genetic changes help the virus to spread more easily or cause more disease. For example, in a November 25 article published in the journal Nature, scientists examined more than 12,000 mutations of SARS-CoV-2 found in viruses in 99 countries and concluded that none could spread more easily from person to person.

Continue reading: As part of the global quest to find the origins of COVID-19 – and predict where it will lead next

Will vaccines still work against the COVID-19 variant?

Officials said vaccines are likely still to work against the new variant, but more research will be done to confirm that it is. “The basic premise is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus, but we must remain vigilant,” said UK chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

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

Since the current leading vaccines target the spike protein to some extent, this mutation could be the first step in making the virus resistant to the current vaccines. “This virus may be on its way to escape vaccines. It has taken the first steps in that direction,” Professor Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, told the BBC. “If we let more mutations be added, you’ll worry.”

The UK began administering the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on December 8, following regulatory approval.

What happens to cases in the UK?

Cases confirmed daily in the UK hit new records over the weekend.

On Sunday, 36,000 people in the UK tested positive for COVID-19 – the highest daily number recorded to date, doubling the daily number from the beginning of the week. The number of people in the hospital is increasing and is at its highest level since April.

Britain confirmed daily cases

TIME

The increase has been seen despite the fact that several large parts of the UK are subject to restrictive lockdowns. Many businesses in some areas are closed and people cannot meet indoors.

These measures appeared to have led to a decrease in new cases every day in late November. Government scientists say the new strain has driven the recent surge.

Over the weekend, in response to the threat, the UK government put London and the south-east of England under a new, restrictive “Tier 4” lockdown that bans people from traveling or meeting others over Christmas. The government had previously announced that it would relax the rules for groups that meet indoors during the Christmas season, despite epidemiologists and opposition parties having urged them to reconsider. But as the cases continued to rise in December, Johnson came under increasing pressure to change course, despite many families across the country planning to travel to see loved ones after a difficult year of isolation.

On December 16, the prime minister had rejected demands to tighten the rules and accused his opponents of wanting to cancel Christmas. (In the rest of the UK, families are still allowed to meet indoors, but only on Christmas Day instead of the five days of the previously permitted festive season.)

Although experts say there is no evidence that the mutation makes the virus more or less deadly, an increase in the number of people with the virus could cause hospitals to become overwhelmed.

“As the number in the community increases, there will always be some people who will end up in the hospital. When these numbers go up, the pressure on your hospitals increases because the background pressure on your hospitals is so high, ”says Dr. Catherine Moore, clinical advisor at the Wales Specialist Virology Center.

This could lead to an increase in the death rate if there is a lack of trained medical staff to treat them. “It doesn’t have to be more serious to be a problem,” says Moore.

How did that affect travel?

At least 40 countries have now banned travel from the UK amid news of the new disease.

However, under the Trump administration rules that have been in place since March, American citizens are still allowed to travel to the United States from both the UK and Europe.

There are currently six flights a day from the UK to New York, according to NBC New York.

The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted sources from the aviation industry on December 18 that the Trump administration wanted to pass an executive order on Tuesday that would lift the ban on non-US citizens from the UK and Europe. The news over the weekend can affect these plans.

In the UK, there were chaos scenes at London train stations on December 19, as people rushed to travel before new rules came into effect. Many trains from the capital were sold out, the Guardian reported.

The government has now said that people in London and the south east of England, where cases are highest, are not allowed to meet others during the holidays.

– With coverage by ALICE PARK / NEW YORK

The coronavirus letter. Everything you need to know about the spread of COVID-19 around the world

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Write to Billy Perrigo at billy.perrigo@time.com.

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