Dubai: The new strain of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that originated in the United Kingdom has sent alarm bells ringing across the world. British officials blame the new strain, identified as VUI – 202012/01, for the increased spread of COVID-19 infections in the country. Officials and scientists say, the strain which first emerged in southeast England, spreads 70 per cent faster.
The World Health Organization said the mutation was found in 1,108 cases in the UK as of December 13. However, that’s likely an undercount since scientists need to run additional tests to confirm which strain of the virus a patient is infected with, including sequencing the genetic code.
To add to this, countries have suspended flights from South Africa after a coronavirus variant was recently discovered in the country. Germany, Turkey, Israel, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia are among the countries that have announced the ban in an effort to prevent the spread of the new strain currently termed 501.V2 Variant, Xinhua news agency reported.
South Africa denied British claims its strain was more infectious or dangerous than the one originating in the UK.
Countries with reported cases of new variant
In Spain, four cases of the new coronavirus variant in the UK have been confirmed in Madrid on Saturday – the first cases detected in the country. All four cases involved people who recently arrived from the UK, the regional health ministry added.
The first French case of the new coronavirus variant was found in a citizen resident in Britain who arrived from London on December 19, the French health ministry said.
They are asymptomatic and self-isolating at home in Tours in central France, and contact-tracing has taken place for the health professionals who treated him, authorities said.
But cases of the new variant have still been reported worldwide: on Friday, Japan confirmed five infections in passengers from the UK, while cases have also been reported in Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Lebanon, Germany, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Kerala, a state in South India, was on high alert after eight people who arrived there from the UK tested positive for COVID-19. The samples of these cases have been sent to National Institute of Virology, Pune for ascertain whether there is any genetic change in the strain of the coronavirus.
Elsewhere in India, seven people who returned from the United Kingdom tested positive for COVID-19 in Telangana. However medical experts were yet to confirm if these returnees were suffering from the new strain of the pandemic. A similar situation prevailed in neighboring Andhra Pradesh where a female UK-returnee tested positive and was kept in a special isolation ward.
The new strain of the virus, which experts fear is 70 per cent more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK. The US said air passengers arriving from the UK must have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure, while Hong Kong extended its mandatory quarantine for most visitors to three weeks.
Lebanon is the first country in the region to have a confirmed case of the new variant. The case was recorded on a December 21 flight that arrived in Beirut from London, caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.
Oman’s Ministry of Health had announced that it suspected four cases of the new mutated strain of COVID-19 had come into the Sultanate from the UK. The suspected cases were under study to determine if they are indeed the new variant of the virus, Dr. Ahmed Al Saidi, Health Minister said.
Three Gulf states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman – closed their land and sea borders and suspended commercial flights over fears of the new strain. While Saudi Arabia said the restrictions would be renewable based on evaluation, Kuwait announced that the closures would be in place at least until January 1.
No cases of the new strain have been reported in the UAE but the country has urged residents to refrain from spreading rumours about the new strain. Dr Omar Abdulrahman Al Hammadi, Official Spokesman of the UAE Government, addressed a press briefing on Tuesday where he spoke about the new COVID-19 strain.
He said: "No need to panic as everything is under control. Our heath sector, thanks to its qualified cadres, is able to deal efficiently with any developments and provide the best healthcare to both citizens and residents."
"All passengers coming from abroad need to adhere to all precautionary measures, including home quarantine, and to approach the nearest hospital if they have any symptoms," he added.