KEY POINTS

  • A new coronavirus strain in the U.K. is 70% more transmissible
  • The variant was first detected in September
  • The new strain has prompted European nations to impose travel bans on England 

More nations across Europe have begun imposing travel bans on England after health officials reported a new variant of the novel coronavirus pandemic that replicates and transmits more efficiently. 

British officials sounded the alarm this weekend after researchers reported a new variant of COVID-19 that The New York Times described as “highly contagious” circulating in England. The new strain has 20 mutations, making it as much as 70% more transmissible. The greater transmissibility is an estimate based on models. It has yet to be confirmed in lab experiments. 

“Overall, I think we need to have a little bit more experimental data. We can’t entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behavior,” Dr. Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said. 

A preliminary analysis of the new variant found changes to the spike protein, which the virus uses to access cells in the human body. Researchers also found another mutation, an H69/V70 deletion, that makes survivors’ coronavirus antibodies less effective at attacking the virus. 

“It is rapidly increasing, that's what's worried government, we are worried, most scientists are worried,” Professor Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge said. 

Health officials first detected the new COVID-19 variant in September. Some think the new strain may have emerged in a patient in the UK. Others believe it was imported from a country that lacks the capability to monitor mutations.

In November, a quarter of the cases in London were caused by the new strain. In mid-December, the new variant reportedly reached two-thirds of cases across the U.K., with infections heavily concentrated in London,  the South East, and eastern England.

 

The new strain has prompted European nations, such as Ireland, Germany and Italy, to impose travel bans on England. The French government also placed travel bans on trucks carrying freight through the English Channel or from the port of Dover. 

On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a four-tier restriction in London and south-east England. The new coronavirus restrictions have banned Christmas shopping and gatherings to curb the rapid spread of the virus.  Brazil has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, after the United States Brazil has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, after the United States Photo: AFP / SILVIO AVILA