The new SARS-CoV-2 variant had led to the rapid surge in COVID-19 headcounts in South and East England. This is being referred to as the VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the B.1.1.7 lineage.
Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary reported to the House of Commons on December 14, “Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability, we have identified a new variant of the coronavirus, which may be associated with the faster spread in the South of England.” The World Health Organization has been informed about this new variant by the UK authorities.
He further added that the new strain, “Was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” admitting that this new variant was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.
As of December 13, a total of 108 cases with this variant have been identified, as reported by the Public Health England (PHE).
The new variant is a result of multiple mutations in the spike protein of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 together with mutations in other genomic regions of the RNA virus. The new variant is more transmissible than the previously circulating variants as per the preliminary analysis. Top health officials report that as of now it remains unknown how deadly this new variant is but it is 70% more transmissible.
It is due to this new virus strain that several countries have imposed a ban on UK travel. European countries like Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are halting flights.
India too has banned all flights from London from today upto 31 December. All passengers arriving India before 22nd December are being subjected to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the concerned airports.
The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted, “Considering the prevailing situation in the UK, the Indian government has decided that all flights originating from the UK to India shall be temporarily suspended till 11:59 pm, 31st December. This suspension to start w.e.f. 11.59 pm, 22nd December”.
France has suspended all travel links, including freight lorries, with the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday (23:00 GMT).
Ireland too has suspended flights arriving from England, Wales and Scotland for 48 hours, stating, “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea”. Ferry crossings for freights would continue though.
The German government has passed a no landing order for UK flights arriving after midnight on Sunday, cargo being the only exception. Likewise, Belgium, Italy, Austria and Turkey too, have ordered for the same.