Feared British COVID-19 strain leaps blockade, found across globe

Washington DC: The highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first detected in England has now been documented in several European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan and Lebanon, despite efforts to curb its spread through massive global disruptions in travel and movement.

On December 21, the new British strain was identified in positive coronavirus cases in two people in hotel quarantine in NSW, but Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly ruled out tougher measures, arguing Australia’s fortnight of mandatory quarantine was sufficient to keep it in check. 

Fears over the fast-spreading form of the virus come in sharp contrast to a wave of hope sweeping some countries and communities as vaccination programs begin to be rolled out. Scientists do not think the British variant is more deadly or resistant to the current coronavirus vaccines.

In Europe, the variant has been detected in France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

The latest coronavirus variant has now been detected in France, Italy, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands, despite Europe’s attempts to close borders to Britons. Credit:AP

In Canada, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer announced on Saturday, local time, that they had confirmed two cases, the first detection of the variant in North America. The patients, a couple, had no known travel history, meaning it was likely a case of community spread.

While the United States has not yet reported a case, experts say it is probably due to the nation's very low rate of genetic sequencing of the virus to check for such changes, despite Americans leading the world in coronavirus infections and deaths.

Beginning Monday, the US government will require all travellers flying in from Britain to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of the plane's departure. Early in the pandemic, the United States banned travellers from China and the European Union, among others, though by that point COVID-19 had already been spreading undetected throughout the US.

Canada has detected the variant in a couple who returned from England. Experts believe it is also spreading in the US. Credit:The Canadian Press

Japan has temporarily banned all foreign nationals except those with residency from entering the country starting December 28 through to the end of January. Japan reported its first case of the British variant on Christmas Day amid a new surge of coronavirus cases in the capital, Tokyo. Japan said five patients detected with the variant had all travelled from the United Kingdom, from which Japan had curbed travel last week.

Countries across Europe and other continents began to block or restrict travellers from the UK last week in reaction to the variant's outbreak. Some, like France, have since walked back near total border closures amid widespread disruptions in trade and travel.

France initially closed its border to all travellers from the United Kingdom, but last Wednesday began allowing EU citizens to pass through. The border closure, however, led to a massive backlog in freight trucks, forcing thousands of drivers stuck Christmas Day near the border to wait for coronavirus test results to be able to cross the English Channel back to France.

Elsewhere, hopes are tentatively rising. Hungary on Saturday became the first European Union member to begin vaccinations, a day ahead of France, Germany and Spain, among others, who will kick off vaccinating high-risk populations this week.

Scientists, however, are additionally closely following news of another variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in South Africa that experts say also appears to be highly transmissible. British health officials have already documented cases of the South African variant in the United Kingdom.

The Washington Post

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