Reports of new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 is causing great anxiety and panic in Europe and beyond.
The new variants of the virus is reported to be up to 70% more transmittable. With the first detection in the UK in September, the COVID-19 strain has now spread with the total number of countries where it is detected reportedly hitting 16.
The countries include Japan, Sweden, South Africa, Nigeria, France, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia, Lebanon, and Singapore. It must be noted that the variant in South Africa and Nigeria is remarkably different from the one discovered in the UK. Even in few European countries, the variants discovered have slightly different traits.
The report of new variants has led some countries to close their borders and tighten their travel restrictions.
However it seems the restrictions will have very little or no effect as the virus must have slipped across the borders long before it was discovered. The number of countries joining the new variant list seem to point towards this possibility.
The first country to report the new variant was the UK, when the country’s health minister, Matt Hancock, said the new variant was “getting out of control”.
Sweden also detected the new strain after a traveller from the UK fell ill on arrival and tested positive. France detected its first case on Christmas Day. The infected person was a French national who had returned from London.
In Spain, four cases of the new variant have been confirmed. The infected people were reported to have arrived from the UK.
“The patients are not seriously ill. We know that this strain is only more transmissible, but it does not cause more serious illness,” said Madrid’s regional government’s deputy health chief, Antonio Zapatero.
According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), three people tested positive for the new coronavirus strain in Switzerland. Two of the patients lived in the UK. “All close contacts have been identified and quarantined,” a FOPH spokeswoman said, Swiss Info reported.
Nine cases were detected in Denmark, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported this week.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, was one of the first European countries to announce that it had found the new virus variant. Dutch Health Minister, Hugo de Jonge, said the new variant was found in two cases in the Amsterdam area.
As for Germany, the first case of the mutant variant was detected after a woman who flew into Frankfurt from London Heathrow tested positive on December 20.
Recently, Italian officials said they identified the strain in a couple who flew from the UK to Rome.
Just like in Italy, a couple in Ontario, Canada, tested positive for the new strain of the virus a day after Christmas. They had no known travel history or high-risk contacts and are now in self-isolation, officials said.
On Christmas Day, Japan reported its first five cases of the fast-spreading virus variant. Following this, Japanese ordered a travel suspension which is expected to run through January. The government has also temporarily ban non-resident foreign nationals from entering the country.
On Friday, Lebanon’s health minister said that a case of the new variant was detected on a flight arriving from London on December 21.
Singapore’s health ministry confirmed on December 24 one case of the new coronavirus variant.
Two cases of the new variant have also been detected in New South Wales, Australia, after a flight arrived from the UK, the state’s chief health officer Kerry Chant said this week.
The variant of the novel coronavirus was reported in Nigeria on December 24, though it was said to have been detected prior to the time.