Many countries across the globe have immediately shut their borders to the United Kingdom on fears about the highly infections new coronavirus strain. The new travel restrictions are now causing chaos for holiday travel.
Russia, Sweden, Hong Kong, Switzerland and many others have already suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that a mutated variant of the coronavirus had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.
France, Germany, Italy and Belgium have also issued travel ban, although experts said the strain may already be circulating in countries will less advanced detection methods that the UK.
The new coronavirus variant was first recorded in the UK in September. By November, it was responsible for about one-quarter of the new cases in London and by the middle of this month, it was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the cases.
Scientists from UK’s New and Emerging Respiration Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) said the new variant had swiftly become the dominants train in the south of Britain, and could soon do the same across the country.
The UK just started using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in its hospitals and elderly home care facilities. The UK was the first country to approve the usage of coronavirus vaccine, and the first to officially start immunization.
Boris Johnson has already announced on Monday that gatherings on Christmas and New Year are prohibited, saying that not seeing loved ones this Christmas season would mean “better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases”.
We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases. (3/3)— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 19, 2020
Here are some important facts you need to know about this new coronavirus variant, which is now known as B.1.1.7:
- The UK variant is not a new supervirus. It’s just one variation among many that have arisen as the coronavirus has spread around the world. Mutations arise as the virus replicates.
- The new coronavirus strain is 40 to 70 percent more transmissible in the UK.
- NERVTAG said there’s a hint that it also has a higher propensity to infect children, unlike previous dominant strains.
- There is no strong evidence that it causes more severe disease, at least not yet. But another lineage of the virus in South Africa with the same mutation found in B.1.1.7 was seen to carry a heightened viral load – a higher concentration of the virus in their upper respiratory tract. In many viral diseases, this is associated with more severe symptoms.
- As far as anyone knows, B.1.1.7 has not reached the US yet.
- The new variant is not expected to have any great impact on the vaccines currently used in the UK, US and other countries. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines create immunity to the coronavirus by teaching the immune system to make antibodies to a protein that sits on the surface of the virus, called spike. The spike protein latches onto cells and opens a passageway inside. Antibodies produced in response to the vaccines stick to the tip of the spike, which prevents the virus to get inside.
The World Health Organization has urged calm and said there is no major alarm yet on this new variant. It added that this is a normal part of the pandemic’s evolution.