Concerns about a rapidly spreading mutated strain of coronavirus recently identified in England have caused chaos over the weekend and caused several countries to suspend travel to and from the country.
Health officials in the UK say modeling estimates suggest the variant is up to 70% more transmissible and could be responsible for a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the south-east of England in recent weeks. Concerns about the spread of the variant have led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose level 4 restrictions – the strictest coronavirus measures in the country – in London, the south-east and east of England over the weekend.
The closure in London led to a crowd of people rushing to the city’s train stations before the new restrictions came into force yesterday morning. Restrictions make it illegal to leave the city unless essential travel is required.
European countries responded quickly to the news, with France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Ireland among the countries moving to block travel in the UK. Today they were joined by dozens of other European countries and nations in Latin America, the Middle East, according to CNN. France has also suspended the transit of goods across the English Channel, leading to the closure of several UK ports.
Johnson and his cabinet are holding an emergency meeting today to discuss travel restrictions, and European Union leaders plan to meet to develop a “common doctrine” to deal with the threat of the option, New York Times rEPORTS
Studies of the current variant
In today’s COVID-19 media update, World Health Organization (WHO) officials addressed what is known so far about the British version, which contains several mutations in the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID -19) which were identified by genomic sequencing.
WHO COVID-19 leader Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, said the variant, identified by UK health officials as line B.1.1.7, was reported to the WHO on December 14 after an epidemiological investigation by human beings. British science on cases in the south-east of England. In a statement today, the WHO said 1,108 cases involving the variant had been identified since 13 December. Most were in people under the age of 60.
Van Kerkhove said that scientists in the UK are currently looking at differences in the ability of the variant to transmit, whether it causes more serious diseases and whether it affects the antibody response. She explained that the reported increased transmission of the variant is indicated by an observed increase in the number of reproduction – the number of people to whom an infected person can transmit the virus – from 1.1 to 1.5.
“It tries to determine how much is associated with the variant itself, as well as the differences in behavior in people that this variant has infected,” said Van Kerkhove. She added that British officials have indicated that they do not believe the variant causes more severe diseases and that it has an impact on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, but that studies are underway to clarify these issues.
“As we speak here today, the scientists in the lab are working on these types of studies … and we expect results from these studies in the coming days and weeks,” she said.
In a risk assessment released yesterday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said British officials had begun an improved epidemiological and virological investigation after noticing a sharp rise in the 14-day case reporting rate in the south-east of England. – from 100 cases to 100,000 at the beginning of October to 400 cases to 100,000 in December. Sequencing of virus samples in Kent, the most affected area, indicated that the increase was temporarily associated with the appearance of the variant in November, when the country was partially blocked as a result of the second European wave.
Public Health England (PHE) explained in a statement that the follow-up suggests that the variant appeared in September and then circulated at very low levels until mid-November. And in a report today, PHE said the “Kent group” of cases was concentrated in Kent and north-east London and was phylogenetically very distinct from the UK dataset.
Mike Ryan, MD, executive director of the WHO health emergency program, noted that variants are a normal part of the evolution of the virus and many variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in recent months, with some being more successful in establishing them. than others, but that none has so far been shown to be more severe or skillful in avoiding diagnosis. He also said that it is prudent for countries to impose preventive travel restrictions while analyzing the risk assessment around the option.
Ryan said the most important thing countries can do right now is to continue to follow proven strategies to reduce coronavirus transmission.
“We need to stop all SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” he said. “It’s the same rules with this virus [and] any variant of this virus and we need to focus on what we can do and what we know, rather than what we don’t know. “
Van Kerkhove said that Australia, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands each reported a single case of the variant, and Denmark reported about 10. She also noted that a SARS-CoV-2 variant identified in South Africa shares a mutation with UK. variant and appeared at the same time, but it is different.
COVID vaccine receives European green light
In other global developments:
- The European Medicines Agency (EMA) today recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 be given conditional marketing approval for people 16 years of age and older. The EMA recommendation was based on an assessment of safety and efficacy data and paves the way for the European Commission to authorize the vaccine and for the first vaccinations to start in Europe.
- Authorities in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, have banned gatherings of more than four people during the Christmas and New Year holidays, according to Al Jazeera. The order, which enters into force on December 23 and lasts until January 3, comes after the country recorded a record number of new infections (1,023) in a single day and the maximum number of deaths daily (24) on Sunday. The outbreak was concentrated in and around Seoul, where health officials warned that only four intensive care beds were available.
- After a new daily record yesterday of about 808,000 new cases of COVID-19, the current number of global cases confirmed at 77,188,346, with 1,699,085 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Dashboard COVID-19.