A new coronavirus strain that spreads much faster has reportedly been detected in the United Kingdom, forcing European neighbors to shut doors after being alarmed that the variant is causing infections to rise anew.
In the Philippines, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing that though no new variants have been detected locally, the agency is still strengthening its measures “to prevent the infection from reaching the country.”
“According to the RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine), right now, they have not seen a new strain in the country based on their monitoring,” Vergeire said. “But of course, we will be furthering this monitoring. We might need to strengthen our measures in the event there is a new strain in the country. But right now, there is none.”
After the UK Health secretary confirmed the presence of a new coronavirus strain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict restrictions for London and southeast England until Dec. 31.
The restriction—the strictest since the initial lockdown in March—prohibits holiday gatherings of more than one household. All non-essential stores are also closed.
In a press conference, Johnson said the COVID-19 mutation active in the UK could be responsible for the surge of COVID-19 cases in southeast England. Rate of new infections in the country has almost doubled in the past two weeks.
Johnson said the new coronavirus strain appears to spread more easily and may be up to 70% more transmissible than the earlier strain.
"The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus,” Johnson said in a press conference.
The UK has tallied over two million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with over 67,000 deaths.
In a statement released on Sunday, Dec. 20, Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said that the new strain also causes a higher mortality rate.
Whitty also said there is no evidence that the new strain could affect the COVID-19 vaccine and treatments, although “urgent work is underway to confirm this.”
European countries that have imposed travel bans on the UK over the new COVID-19 variant include Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Kuwait, and Austria.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, El Salvador, Morocco are also halting flights arriving from the UK.
Canada is also restricting travel from the UK for 72 hours starting Monday.
Australia is not banning flights from the UK, according to The Guardian, but will continue to impose its mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine to all international arrivals.
“Viruses mutate all the time,” Robin McKie, Science Editor of The Guardian writes, noting the COVID-19 mutations that have been discovered the past months. A mutated version of the new coronavirus linked to mink farms in Denmark was discovered last month. And in September, it was reported that a mutation of the coronavirus emerged in Spain.
BBC News’ James Gallagher writes that virus mutations are either “a meaningless tweak” or “the virus alters itself in such a way that it gets worse at infecting us and the new variant just dies out.”
But occasionally, “it hits on a new formula,” allowing it to infect humans more easily.
“Soon mass vaccination will put a different kind of pressure on the virus because it will have to change in order to infect people who have been immunized. If this does drive the evolution of the virus, we may have to regularly update the vaccines, as we do for flu, to keep up,” Gallagher writes.
Banner photo and thumbnail from The STAR/Edd Gumban