Australia detects new UK strain; Hong Kong, India cancel Britain flights

From Sayantani Ghosh
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Australia on Monday announced it had discovered cases of the new, fast-spreading strain of coronavirus in the UK, while Hong Kong and India said they were suspending flights from the UK.
Two travelers from the UK to the Australian state of New South Wales have been found to be carrying the mutated variant of the virus, which the UK has claimed could be up to 70% more contagious. Both are in hotel quarantine and the recent surge in infections in Sydney is unrelated to it, authorities said.
The new strain has caused the UK's European neighbors and several others including Canada and Iran to close their doors to travelers out of the country.
Much is unknown about the strain, but experts said current vaccines should still be effective against it.
Asian nations, including Japan and South Korea, said they were monitoring the new strain despite battling spikes in infections at home.
Hong Kong banned flights from Great Britain in order to curb the already rising number of cases in the dense financial center. The Chinese Special Administrative Region announced on Monday that people arriving from the UK before December 22 would have to be quarantined for three weeks instead of two.
India announced a suspension of all flights from the UK through the end of the year and said that all passengers arriving earlier from the UK will be tested on arrival at airports.
South Korea, which imposes a 14-day quarantine on all entrants, said it was considering new measures for flights from the UK and would test twice those entering from there before being released from quarantine.
In the past week, new cases have risen to over 1,000 a day in South Korea several times. It reported an outbreak in a Seoul prison on Sunday, where 188 inmates and staff were infected.
The country said Monday that Seoul will ban gatherings of more than four people later this week and double hospital beds for critical COVID-19 cases by the end of the year.
Taiwan, which also has a 14-day quarantine, said on Sunday there are currently no plans to stop flights from the UK.
Great Britain is one of 23 countries with which India shares a "bubble". The Indian health minister said the country was ready to deal with the new strain and there was no need to panic.
Japan, where entry from the UK is already categorically banned, said it will stay in close contact with other countries as well as the World Health Organization to see how the new type of virus spreads.
The new strain in the UK is due to the recent emergence of cases in several Asian countries where the pandemic was previously successfully contained. The spikes have resulted in localized bans and more aggressive testing in some countries.
Thailand said Sunday it was testing tens of thousands of people and extending freedom of movement after the worst outbreak yet, which began in a shrimp market in a province that is a center of the fishing industry and is home to thousands of migrant workers.
Thailand, the first country outside of China to report COVID-19 cases, has so far reported only 60 deaths from the virus among its 70 million people. On Monday, the country confirmed 382 new infections, mostly migrant workers.
Thousands of workers in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia are infected in dormitories and factories, often showing unsanitary living and working conditions, although the total number in these locations is largely limited.
Australia, which has seen cases in Sydney in the past few days, canceled dozens of domestic flights on Monday.
New South Wales, which reported 86 new local cases as of Thursday, ruled more than 250,000 people on Sydney's northern beaches and locked people who had visited places where confirmed cases were tested to self-isolate.
These cases are not part of the British tribe. Australian health officials said a strain of the virus in northeast Sydney found a traveler from the US, but how it got from the airport to the community was a mystery.
(Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Renju Jose in Sydney, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Farah Master in Hong Kong; editing by Lincoln Feast, Himani Sarkar and Toby Chopra)
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