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New coronavirus strain "out of control", says UK amid flights ban

Britain warns new Covid-19 virus strain 'out of control'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said the day before that million of Britons would have to cancel their Christmas plans and stay home because the new strain was spreading far more quickly.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Published : December 20, 2020 9:54 PM IST

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".

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 modeling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.

The Union Health Ministry has called an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on Monday to discuss the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus in the UK, which has led to a surge in the infection rate there.

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"The Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) will hold a meeting on Monday morning to discuss the issue of the mutated variant of the coronavirus reported from the UK. WHO's India representative Dr Roderico H Ofrin, who is also a member of the JMG, is likely to participate in the meeting," a source told PTI.

LOCKDOWN RE-IMPOSED FOLLOWING THE SURGE IN NEW VARIANT INFECTION

A surge in the infection rate caused by the new variant of the coronavirus has led to millions entering a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown in the UK from Sunday, with non-essential shops and businesses now closed.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new rules at a briefing from 10 Downing Street on Saturday evening, which means a planned five-day "Christmas bubble" of relaxed rules has been canceled in favour of a new Tier 4 level to the current three-tier lockdown system to try and control the surge in infections being caused by the new mutation of the deadly virus.

"It seems that the spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus," Johnson said.

"We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding," said Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

"There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this," he said.

WHO's COMMENT ON THE NEW CORONAVIRUS STRAIN

The World Health Organisation tweeted late Saturday that "We're in close contact with UK officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant." It promised to update governments and the public as more is learned about this variant.

The new strain of coronavirus was identified in southeastern England in September and has been circulating in the area since a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday.

"What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread," said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's the technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are underway to better understand how fast it spreads and whether "it's related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behavior," she said.

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia, where there was one case that did not spread further.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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