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The Latest COVID Variant Is Causing 'Mayhem'

More nations are shutting down travel from the UK
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2020 1:13 AM CST
Updated Dec 21, 2020 6:44 AM CST

(Newser) – Britain is taking drastic measures in southern England and many EU nations are banning travel from the UK in an effort to slow the spread of a new COVID variant identified there that may be contributing to faster spread of the coronavirus in the area. The UK set a new daily record for coronavirus cases Sunday: 35,928, nearly twice the number recorded just a week prior. Meanwhile, across an ocean, US Army scientists are examining the variant in an attempt to determine whether it will be resistant to the new vaccines and Canada is joining those aforementioned EU nations. The latest:

  • "Out of control": Those were the words the UK's health minister used to describe the new variant's spread, per CNN. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair an emergency meeting of the government Monday to discuss next steps.

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  • About those travel restrictions: Canada joined many EU nations in banning flights from the UK; it will halt flights for at least 72 hours starting Sunday night. Multiple South American countries have announced similar moves. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and others have also announced new travel restrictions. CNN has an extensive list.
  • Emergency meeting: The Monday meeting chaired by Johnson will specifically discuss the travel restrictions, including the fact that France has closed its border with England for 48 hours, the BBC reports. Of particular concern is whether imports and exports, most especially food supplies, will be impacted.
  • Fleeing the city: Many rushed to get out of London ahead of travel restrictions, despite warnings from officials that anyone in the area should act as if they are infected.
  • Cause for alarm? Officials are stressing that there is so far no evidence the new variant is any deadlier or that it will not respond as expected to vaccines. It may, however, be up to 70% more transmissible, though experts say it's also possible this is just a "lucky" variant getting extra attention due to a superspreader event. It's said to be responsible for 60% of infections in London—which almost doubled over the past week.
  • On the vaccine front: Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research think they should know within days whether the new variant is resistant to vaccines, CNN reports. "It stands to reason that this mutation isn't a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look," a director says. Other medical experts agree with that assessment. The vaccines have been found to work against other mutated strains of the virus, and experts say virus mutations, which happen constantly, typically don't render vaccines useless.
  • "Mayhem": Science has an interesting look at what exactly made public health experts "sit up straight" during a routine meeting earlier this month.
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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