Strict lockdown, huge queues at London airports, the refusal to ease Christmas quarantine. Ban on air travel... Information about a new strain of coronavirus has frightened both residents of Great Britain and other European countries. We will tell what is known about it and about the current situation in general.
A new strain of Covid-19 virus has been discovered in the UK. This was announced the day before by the World Health Organization. And confirmed the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is in "close contact" with UK officials over the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus.
We’re in close contact with UK ???????? officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant. They’ll continue to share info & results of their analysis & ongoing studies. We’ll update Member States & public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant & any implications.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 19, 2020
According to Boris Johnson, given the preliminary data and the potential risk posed by the new strain of Covid-19, British people will not be able to celebrate Christmas as planned.
We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases. (3/3)— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 19, 2020
What does it mean?
London and south-east and east of England, where the so-called tier 3 of quarantine was still in force, are moving to the tier 4.
Under tier 4 restrictions, non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues must close, with a new “stay at home” message introduced. People who need to travel for education or childcare are exempt, and exercise is unlimited. Where people cannot work from home, they will still be able to travel to work. Under the measures, households are not allowed to mix, but one person is allowed to meet with one other person outside in a public space. Support bubbles and those meeting for childcare are exempt. Those who are deemed clinically extremely vulnerable should not go to work and should limit time outside of their homes. Tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home, and cannot travel abroad.
In other parts of the country, company meetings will only be allowed on Christmas, December 25.
As a result
After Johnson's statements about the new strain and the introduction of lockdown at London airports, such queues formed there:
Residents of the capital hurried to leave the city before the start of the tier 4 lockdown.
Now more about the strain itself. What is known at the moment?
The new strain of Covid-19. What do we know?
Mathematicians have been running the numbers on the spread of different variants in an attempt to calculate how much of an edge this one might have. But teasing apart what is due to people's behaviour and what is due to the virus is hard.
The figure mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was that the variant may be up to 70% more transmissible. He said this may be increasing the R number - which indicates if an epidemic is growing or shrinking - by 0.4.
That 70% number appeared in a presentation by Dr Erik Volz, from Imperial College London, on Friday.
During the talk he said: "It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this."
However, it should be clarified that a specific figure about the contagiousness of the new strain has not yet been announced.
How far has it spread?
It is thought the variant either emerged in a patient in the UK or has been imported from a country with a lower ability to monitor coronavirus mutations.
The variant can be found across the UK, except Northern Ireland, but it is heavily concentrated in London, the South East and eastern England. Cases elsewhere in the country do not seem to have taken off.
Data from Nextstrain, which has been monitoring the genetic codes of the viral samples around the world, suggest cases in Denmark and Australia have come from the UK. The Netherlands has also reported cases.
Is this strain more deadly?
So far there is no evidence to confirm or deny this.
Will the vaccines work against the new variant?
Almost certainly yes, or at least for now.
BBC writes that all three leading vaccines develop an immune response against the existing spike, which is why the question comes up. Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus, so even though part of the spike has mutated, the vaccines should still work.
According to German Health Minister Jens Span in a comment to ZDF, consultations with European countries and the Robert Koch Institute led to the conclusion that the mutation "does not affect vaccination, and that would be very, very good news."
How other countries react to new strain of Covid-19 in UK?
They close the borders. More than 20 countries have suspended flights to the United Kingdom.
In particular, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Canada, as well as Turkey, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador and Colombia. Poland also joined in.
The ban on crossing the border varies from country to country, ranging from 2 to 40 days.
In addition, EU member states are convening an emergency meeting chaired by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to decide how to proceed.
Ukraine has not yet introduced a ban on flights to the United Kingdom.