The UK authorities introduced new lockdown restrictions and have scraped Christmas relaxations.
While the world awaits a vaccine to end the pandemic, the news of a new strain of coronavirus is making the headlines. According to the BBC, a new variant of the virus has been found across the United Kingdom, pushing authorities to impose more restrictions from and to the UK.
The UK government announced that the new variant "was out of control." Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated, "We have got to get it under control," according to a statement released on 19 December 2020. The officials stated that there was a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases despite the strict lockdown measures that were applied.
Scientists are hurrying to understand why a new strain of the coronavirus that emerged in England in September appears to be spreading far more rapidly than earlier variants https://t.co/gIbYbu6o2F— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) December 20, 2020
The cases reported are concentrated in London, the South East, and eastern England. As a result, the authorities have scrapped the earlier lockdown relaxations around Christmas. Instead, new tier four-level restrictions have been introduced to control the spread.
Italy is joining Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands in banning U.K. flights to slow a new, more transmissible coronavirus strain. Germany is considering limiting flights. https://t.co/r1XHOVW2uS— The Associated Press (@AP) December 20, 2020
The new strain was first identified in September. In November, around a quarter of cases reported were of the new strain. In mid-December, nearly two-thirds of the cases reported were of the new variant. Though it is not proven to be more deadly, it is found to be 70% more transmissible. There is also no evidence of the variant responding differently to the vaccine.
According to the BBC, the variant has also been reported in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia. Nextstrain, an open-source project, that monitors genetic codes of the viral samples around the world suggested that the cases reported from Denmark and Australia have come from the UK.
The new strain of Covid-19 that prompted the UK to impose a renewed Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeastern England is "out of control," Health Secretary Matt Hancock says https://t.co/Xvj24H7Jdk pic.twitter.com/WoTIvz3Ulu— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) December 20, 2020
Meanwhile, within hours of the UK's announcement, many European countries such as Ireland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium imposed precautionary travel bans.
France suspended all travel links including freight lorries. Authorities in Ireland banned flights arriving from England, Wales, and Scotland for 48 hours. They also requested travelers from the UK to refrain from coming to the country by air or sea. However, cargo is exempted from the ban. While most countries have only taken short-term ban decisions, Austria has announced a travel ban till 31 January 2021
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock:— EHA News (@eha_news) December 20, 2020
▪️“Unfortunately, the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control.”
▪️“It’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”
▪️“The situation is deadly serious.” pic.twitter.com/pWq04yyhXe
Italy, which restricted UK travelers till 6 January 202, stated that they detected the first case of the new strain. According to Reuters, the patient and his partner returned from the UK via flight and landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. The health ministry stated that the individual is now placed in isolation in Rome.