Friday, June 18, 2021

New strain of coronavirus ‘out of control’ says UK, flights banned

European countries banned flights from the UK on Sunday and the WHO called for stronger containment measures as the British government warned that a potent new strain of the virus was “out of control”.

As the World Health Organization urged its European members to strengthen measures against a new variant of Covid-19 circulating in Britain, the Netherlands imposed a ban on UK flights from 6:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday and Belgium said it would follow suit from midnight with ban on planes and trains from the UK.

Alarm bells were ringing across Europe — which last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago — after it appeared that a new, even more infectious strain of the virus was raging in parts of Britain.

Germany, too, was considering a similar move as “a serious option” for flights from both Britain and South Africa, where another variant was discovered, according to a government source.

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Italy will join the ban in order to protect its citizens, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, without specifying when the measures would come into force.

Austria’s health ministry told the APA news agency that it would also impose a flight ban, the details of which were still being worked out.

A spokeswoman for WHO Europe told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, according to the Elysee palace in Paris.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the infectiousness of the new strain had forced his hand into imposing a lockdown across much of England over the Christmas period.

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“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News after Johnson U-turned on his previously stated policy of easing containment measures over the festive season.

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Scientists first discovered the new variant — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September. And Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.

But Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, “there is no current evidence to suggest (it) causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this.”

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,685,785 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.

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