Supercharged mutant Covid strain is 'probably already in the US and may even have started here', scientists warn
THE mutant strain of the coronavirus detected in Britain could already be circulating in the US and may even have originated in the country, scientists have said.
The new strain, thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than the original, was first detected in London earlier this month and has now been identified in at least six other territories around the world.
The news prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel a planned relaxation of coronavirus restriction over Christmas, and some 40 countries have now imposed bans on UK flights.
The US has so far not followed suit, although on Monday Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said that "everything [is] on the table".
Speaking to CNBC last night, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, was asked if a travel ban could stop the new strain spreading to the US.
"I think this is already in the US," he said.
"I don't think that a travel ban at this point is going to prevent this mutated strain from coming in to the United States.
"We're going to have an epidemic that continues to build over the course of the next three or four weeks… and then we'll start to see infection rates decline as we see vaccinations get rolled out."
Cases of the new strain have so far been identified in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Gibraltar, and Australia, and there have been unverified reports of cases in Belgium.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE BANNED FLIGHTS FROM BRITAIN?
The news of the mutant strain of coronavirus spreading in the UK prompted countries around the world to introduce bans on travellers from Britain.
- Argentina: After a flight arrived Monday, all links with the UK were shut.
- Austria: Flights have been banned from midnight on Tuesday.
- Belgium: A ban on passenger travel will remain in place until 23.59 on December 22. After that, only those travelling from the UK who are resident in Belgium will be able to enter.
- Bulgaria: Flights suspended until January 31.
- Canada: Justin Trudeau has tweeted that flights have been temporarily suspended for 72 hours from Sunday night. Brits who arrived on Sunday will be subject to extra screenings and other “advanced measures”.
- Chile: Flights suspended to the UK from Tuesday. Anyone who has travelled to Britain in the past two weeks and does not have Chilean residency will also be banned.
- Colombia: All flights to and from the UK have been suspended from midnight Monday until further notice.
- Croatia: Flights suspended until January 31.
- El Salvador: Anyone who has traveled to South Africa or the UK in the past 30 days will be denied entry.
- Estonia: Flights suspended until January 1.
- Finland: Flights have been suspended for two weeks.
- France: All travel to the UK was halted for 48 hours on Sunday night, including freight, rail, ferry and air networks. Only unaccompanied freight will be allowed through. Eurostar and Eurotunnel services are not running, while the port at Dover is also closed.
- Germany: An initial air ban has been brought in until December 31, although authorities are working to extend this into January. Freight is exempt from the ban.
- Hong Kong: All arrivals from the UK in the last 14 days will have their quarantine extended, while new arrivals will be banned from midnight Tuesday.
- India: All flights from the UK will be banned until midnight on December 31. Anyone who transits through Britain will automatically be tested on arrival in India.
- Iran: Flights suspended for two weeks.
- Ireland: Flights have been banned for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday. The 310-mile long land border remains open at this time
- Israel: All travellers from Britain, South Africa and Denmark have been banned entry. Israeli citizens returning from these places will be subject to tough quarantine, according to Benjamin Natanyahu.
- Italy: Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said he has signed a decree "which blocks flights from Great Britain and prohibits entry into Italy of people who have stayed there during the last 14 days".
- Jamaica: All incoming flights from the UK are banned until January 4.
- Jordan: All flights between the kingdom and the UK are suspended until January 3.
- Kuwait: Banned flights from the UK and added Britain to its list of ‘high-risk nations’.
- Latvia: Flights suspended until January 1. Bus and ferry services have also been shut down.
- Lithuania: Flights suspended until January 1.
- Macedonia: Flights suspended until January 31.
- Malta: All flights suspended to and from the UK from midnight on Tuesday.
- Mauritius: Travellers from the UK and South Africa will be banned from midnight, with anyone travelling to those countries in the past 14 days will also be denied entry.
- Morocco: All flights to the UK banned from Sunday.
- Netherlands: All air and ferry services have been stopped until January 1 as one new case of the mutant strain has been found in the Netherlands.
- Norway: All flights suspended for two days.
- Oman: All borders have closed for two weeks.
- Peru: All flights to and from Europe have been suspended for two weeks President Francisco Sagasti announced.
- Poland: All those travelling from the UK were denied entry from midnight Monday.
- Portugal: Lisbon has announced its ban in coordination with Spain, it's only neighbour by land.
- Romania: Flights banned for two weeks.
- Russia: The Kremlin have suspended air travel between Russia and the UK for a week.
- Saudi Arabia: All borders have closed for one week. Arrivals from Europe over the weekend will be made to quarantine for two weeks and will be tested.
- Spain: Madrid has announced that all non-residents and citizens entering from the UK will be banned from Tuesday. Controls on entry will also be tightened in Gibraltar.
- Sweden: Travellers from the UK and Denmark have been banned from midnight Monday for an initial 48 hours, although Swedish citizens will be exempted.
- Switzerland: Flights have been suspended until further notice. Arrivals from South Africa are now also banned and ordered into quarantine, although Swiss authorities announced they believe the mutated virus is already circulating in the country, but has yet to show up on tests.
- Turkey: Flights from the UK, along with South Africa, Denmark and the Netherlands have been suspended.
As an alternative to a UK ban, officials on the White House's coronavirus task force have discussed requiring all arrivals from the UK to present a negative Covid test, CNN reports.
Dr. Gottlieb added: “As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants, and that’s why it’s important to get the population vaccinated and snuff out these infections.
“The more infections you have, the more chances that these variants start to propagate.”
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo voiced support for a travel ban, though added that he believed "intuitively [the new strain] is already here".
Top White House medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci also said yesterday the new strain could already be circulating in the US.
“It very well might be here for all we know. That’s why we have a system to do surveillance," he said.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, added: "It may have even started here."
He said that the strain might be present but not have been identified in the US because the country's sequencing program is "so sporadic".
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, echoed concerns that the new strain has probably already entered the country.
“It makes sense that it was detected first in the U.K. because they have probably the world’s best surveillance program," she said.
"It would not shock me at all to find out that it also is circulating in the U.S."
The US has seen over 18.4million cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, almost a quarter of the global total.
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