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WHO confirms spread of new variant as nations ban UK arrivals

WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge has urged stringent measures to prevent the new variant taking hold as more countries issue ban on UK arrivals.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to step up preventative measures against the new coronavirus variant recently identified in the United Kingdom as the previously unidentified strain extends across Europe. The new variant is thought to be more transmissible than others currently circulating but experts have stressed that as yet there is no evidence to suggest that the new strain is more virulent than other mutations that have sprung up since the global covid-19 pandemic started.

New strain could affect younger people

However, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge has warned that the new strain could be more aggressive among younger people, in contrast to other previous mutations. Kluge said countries need to remain on-guard even as covid-19 vaccines are rolled out worldwide. “Vigilance is important while research is ongoing to define its impact.”

The Who has confirmed that the new strain, VOC-202012/01, has now been identified in eight European countries after being confirmed last week by UK authorities following its first reported detection in October.

The WHO did not confirm which countries the new variant has now spread to, but France, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Germany have all reported cases. The Swedish Health Agency confirmed its first case of the new variant on 26 December via a passenger travelling to Sormland, south of Stockholm, from the UK for Christmas. Health Agency official Sara Byfors told a news conference the traveller had been isolating and that no further positive cases had so far been detected.

UK flight bans being imposed worldwide

Police officers stand on duty at beneath a sign reading "Testing to Commence", at the entrance to the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England, on December 23, 2020.
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Police officers stand on duty at beneath a sign reading "Testing to Commence", at the entrance to the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England, on December 23, 2020.JUSTIN TALLISAFP

Japan elected to extend a ban on all new entries of foreign nationals from 28 December to the end of January following the detection of the new variant in arrivals from Britain, Nikkei reported on Boxing Day, while the Philippines has also joined the growing list of nations to extend a ban on flights arriving from the UK. On Christmas Day, Russia imposed a two-week quarantine on arrivals from the UK. The United States will require all airline passengers arriving from the UK to test negative for covid-19 within 72 hours of departure as of 28 December amid concerns about the new variant. The decision was a turnaround after the Trump administration told US airlines it was not planning to require any testing for arriving UK passengers.

Cases of the new strain have also been reported in Hong Kong, Ireland, Lebanon and Canada, where health officials in Ontario said on 26 December that two confirmed cases of the new strain had been identified in a couple in southern Ontario with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contact.

New variant could be more transmissible

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Christmas Eve of difficult times ahead, citing the need to control the rapid spread of the new strain.

"I know that it's been very, very tough over the last few weeks and I must tell people, it will continue to be difficult, not least basically because of the speed with which the new variant is spreading," Johnson told a news conference.

Experts have warned that VOC-202012/01 could be up to 70 percent more transmissible than previous strains of the coronavirus.