Minggu, 20 Desember 2020

New coronavirus strain ‘out of control’, UK forced to impose Stage 4 restrictions -

A new, mutant strain of the coronavirus is “out of control”, and countries across Europe are shutting down travel from the United Kingdom in response.

The new variant of COVID-19, which spreads more easily, has forced the British government to impose stricter social distancing rules across the country, including Tier 4 restrictions in London and southeastern England.

The Tier 4 rules affect about 18 million people, who will be banned from travelling or mixing with different households. People in other parts of the UK will only be allowed to mix on Christmas Day.

“We have to act to protect the public,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a media briefing today, having promised just last week that restrictions would actually be relaxed over the Christmas period.

“The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus. It appears to spread more easily, and may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the earlier strain,” he said.

“Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.

“I seriously believe there is no alternative open to me.”

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Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the new variant appeared to have a “significant, substantial increase in transmissibility”.

“It’s also got variants in the areas of the virus that are known to be associated with how the virus binds to cells and enters cells,” he said.

“So there are some changes which cause concern in terms of how the virus looks.”

He said that, as of mid-December, more than 60 per cent of cases in London were from the new strain. A month ago, that figure was under 30 per cent.

“What this tells us is that this new variant not only moves fast – it is increased in terms of its ability to transmit – but it is becoming the dominant variant. It is beating all the others in terms of transmission.”

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said there was no evidence to suggest the variant is more deadly, nor that vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 will be any less effective against it.

Speaking to the BBC, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “the new variant is out of control”.

“This news about the new variant has been an incredibly difficult end to, frankly, an awful year. And it’s important for everybody to essentially act like they might have the virus,” Mr Hancock said.

“We know that Tier 3 works for the old variant. But we know that it doesn’t work with the new variant, because the new variant spreads more easily. So that is why there are movement restrictions, to try to stop this new variant from spreading.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon already announced a travel ban north of the border with England yesterday, citing the risk of the new strain – officially known as VUI-202012/01 – being imported.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is imposing Level 4 restrictions from midnight, local time. Northern Ireland is going into lockdown on Boxing Day.

Meanwhile, cases of the variant are starting to pop up in other parts of Europe, and the European Council has scheduled a crisis meeting on Monday to discuss the situation.

Several countries have already announced temporary bans on travel from the UK, most of which take effect from midnight.

Germany says it will review its prohibition on all incoming flights by December 31.

“The ban was introduced due to the mutation of the coronavirus in the UK,” it said in newly posted public health advice.

There are exemptions for repatriation flights of planes and their crews, postal and freight flights, and flights with medical personnel.

France has gone with a more modest, 48-hour suspension.

“Because of this new health risk, all flows of people from the UK to France are suspended from midnight tonight for 48 hours, and for all means of transport,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

Ireland is suspending all flights from Britain for at least 48 hours. The nation shares a border with Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

“People in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland by air or by sea,” the government said in a statement.

There is an exemption for essential supply chain workers, and some ferry crossings will continue to “keep essential supply chains moving”.

Italy is stopping flights both to and from the UK.

“The UK has issued an alert on a new form of COVID that would be the result of a virus mutation,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

“As a government, we have a duty to protect Italians. For this reason, we are about to sign the measure to suspend flights with Great Britain. Our priority is to protect Italy and our countrymen.”

Similar bans are being imposed by the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Bulgaria, with the latter halting travel from the UK until the end of January.

Greece, which is a popular holiday destination for Brits, will still let them come, but require travellers to quarantine for seven days.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organisation, spoke to the BBC about the new strain today.

“What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” she said.

“There are further studies underway to really understand how much faster this spreads, and if it’s related to the variant itself or a combination of factors with behaviour.

“We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease, from the preliminary information they’ve shared with us.

“But it is a concern that the virus is spreading, and that it has so many mutations. We need to follow the science, we need to follow the evidence, to really understand what this variant does, and the implications.”

Dr Vivek Murthy, the incoming US surgeon-general, made similar points on Meet the Press, saying there was “no reason to believe” the vaccines researchers have developed in response to COVID-19 won’t work on the new strain.

“While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it,” Dr Murthy said.

“There’s no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus.

“The bottom line is, if you’re at home and you’re hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions, as individuals, that can reduce the spread of this virus.”

Back in the UK, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer ripped into Mr Johnson for today’s announcement, which directly contradicted his rhetoric last week.

“I think the Prime Minister should apologise. This is not just one mistake when he has otherwise got things right. It is the same mistake over and over again,” he said.

“At the heart of the problem here is a Prime Minister who simply doesn’t want to be unpopular, and therefore won’t take the tough decisions that are necessary until he is forced into them at the 11th hour.

“It was blatantly obvious last week that the Prime Minister’s plan for a free-for-all over Christmas was a risk too far.

“Rather than listening to concerns and taking them seriously, the Prime Minister did what he always does – dismissed the challenge, ruffled his hair and made a flippant comment.

“The alarm bells have been ringing for weeks, but the Prime Minister chose to ignore them. It is an act of gross negligence.”

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2020-12-20 20:40:32Z

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