The timeless battle against the novel coronavirus seemed to have no end when a new variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the U.K. a few days ago.
After a deadly spike in late November and early December, scientists experimented with patients’ data and found a new variant, an unknown one thought to have been more contagious. As the original virus mutated, different strains of the virus began to emerge, each one increasing its spread and health impact. The new variant found in the U.K. is summarized to have alterations to its spike protein which makes the virus spread easier.
As a result, UK’s authorities imposed a Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeast England. They increased restrictions for most of England as the holiday seasons began, totaling at over 48 million people facing a strict quarantine by Saturday.
Outside the hard-hit UK, 40 other countries scrambled to order travel bans to and from the UK out of fear of contagion. Countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East tightened restrictions. For example, France holds thousands of trucks stranded at the border between England after the sudden ban.
The United States has not yet ordered any travel restrictions as usatoday.com reports that “U.S. health officials say they do not yet see a need to halt flights from the United Kingdom, even as a growing number of other countries ban British travelers amid the rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus in London and elsewhere.”
Many leaders are pushing the Trump administration to restrict travel between the U.S. and the U.K. with hypothetical news that the variant is 70% more transmissible. Admiral Brett Giroir, President Trump’s assistant secretary for health, said “There was not a CDC recommendation for that” along with saying that U.S. officials were monitoring the situation continuously. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said “CDC is following the situation closely and actively assessing the implications of the new variant and response options with respect to international travel.”
With the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci opposed new travel restriction as of the available information while saying “the U.S. must without a doubt keep an eye on it.”
Dr. Ajay Sethi of University of Wisconsin-Madison said travel bans were to be dealt carefully to avoid extra fear or disruption in reflection of Trump’s travel ban to China after the U.S. had been exposed to the virus.
Despite a lack of a travel ban, New York Governor Andre Cuomo managed to secure a testing mandate for boarding travelers between NYC and the UK for airlines Delta, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio issued on Wednesday that travelers from the U.K. to the city would be mandated to quarantine or pay a daily fine of $1000.
While there is no report yet that the new variant is more harmful per infection, “that variant is getting on a plane and landing in JFK, and all it takes is one person,” New York Governor Andre Cuomo said. “This is another disaster waiting to happen.”
“We can’t let history repeat itself with this new virus variant.”