The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control confirms that the British strain of the coronavirus is 70% more contagious but does not cause more serious COVID-19. Most European countries block their flights with the United Kingdom.
British Minister Boris Johnson has decided to confine London and the southeast of the country because of the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases that they were detected, a large proportion belonging to a new unique phylogenetic group of SARS-CoV-2. According to British Health Minister Matt Hancock, the virus was “out of control”. This newly discovered strain, known as the B.1.1.7 lineage, has caused major European countries to cancel their flights to the UK. Given the alarm and expectation generated, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has come out on Monday to clarify that the variant of the coronavirus that has been detected in the United Kingdom it is 70% more contagious but does not appear to cause a more serious illness.
Flights to have been suspended
The discovery of the high transmission capacity of this new strain of SARS-CoV-2 has caused many flights to have been suspended and up to 23 European countries (20 from the European Union) have closed the entries and exits with the United Kingdom, a position to which Spain and Portugal have also just joined. In addition, in Spain, PCR tests had already been reinforced in ports and airports for travelers from the country.
France has requested new health protocols in the EU to restore traffic with the United Kingdom “in the next few hours” and the European authorities are meeting to agree on a common position. In America, the governments of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Peru have also canceled their connections with the United Kingdom. Canada and India, among other countries in the world, have also suspended their flights.
The Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, has affirmed that the vaccine “is also effective with the new strain, but has warned that Spain may be at the” beginning of the third wave “after verifying” with complete clarity “the change in trend regarding the “Bending the curve”, and has asked to “strictly comply” with the measures stipulated by the health authorities, adding that they do not rule out restricting measures during Christmas. In fact, two out of every three Spaniards believe that the Government should adopt more demanding measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the survey published this Monday by the CIS.
Coronavirus mutations and their risks
Viruses evolve naturally as they spread through the population, although not all of them mutate in the same way, and for example, the flu does vary from season to season and that is why different vaccines are needed that do not protect against all viruses. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, numerous variants have been identified since it was first detected in China.
A slightly modified strain can become the most common in a country or region, although the most worrying thing is that the variants cause more serious disease or the mutation of the virus changes the proteins on its surface and this makes it easier for it to escape to the immune system or the vaccines that have been created to combat it.
Speaking to the BBC, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that the strain was identified in south-east England in September and has been circulating in the area ever since. Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, has claimed that the strain “moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant,” and is responsible for more than 60% of the infections that occurred in London in December.
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The strain also worries scientists because it has many mutations – nearly two dozen – and some are in the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to and infect cells. Although the possibility that the new strains will be resistant to the vaccines that have been developed to prevent coronavirus infection is low, it is not “non-existent”, as explained by Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the main scientific adviser for the distribution of vaccines of the United States government on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
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