Europe on High Alert After UK Identifies New COVID-19 Strain That Spreads More Quickly
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that stricter restrictions would be put in place during the holiday season as a new contagious strain of coronavirus led to a record number of daily cases, reports CNN.
The UK is set to go through a Tier 4 lockdown that will have many businesses closed and people to stay at home unless necessary. It will also prohibit households from mingling on Christmas Day.
According to CNN, France and the Republic of Ireland have suspended travel to and from the UK for the next two days. In Belgium, travelers from the UK are banned from entering the country for 24 hours, and the Italian ban has no end date. Latvia and the Netherlands, meanwhile, will keep people out of the UK until next year.
These new restrictions come after the UK reported a new high of 35,928 cases today. The increase is attributed to a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus, which accounts for 60 percent of infections in London alone. "The spread is driven by the new variant of the virus," said Johnson. "It seems to be easier to spread and is possibly up to 70 percent more communicable than the previous strain."
While this new information is alarming, the UK health authorities are not quite pressing the panic button just yet. UK chief physician Chris Whitty believes this new variant is easier to transmit, but not more deadly, and does not affect the effectiveness of the recently approved vaccine. "There is currently no evidence that the new strain is causing a higher death rate or affecting vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is being done to confirm this," Whitty said.
"The vaccines induce neutralizing antibodies against several parts of the spike (" epitopes ") and most of them would remain unchanged by the mutations - so the vaccines will continue to work," said Daniel Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London.
Despite its somewhat encouraging initial results, the government's COVID-19 scientific advisory group is not taking this new threat lightly and is treating this new strain as "a real cause for concern".
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