Dec. 28, 2020 – The highly contagious mutation of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom continues to spread, now being reported in parts of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Australia and Canada. On Monday, South Korea became the latest country to report COVID-19 infections with the variation that could be more easily passed between people, according to the Korean Herald.
Most cases have been linked to travel from Great Britain, where the variant was first detected, the newspaper reported. The United Kingdom initiated a lockdown, and several countries banned travelers from Great Britain last week, but researchers are concerned that the variation could have been circulating undetected in other countries for weeks.
“Unfortunately, this is another twist in the plot,” Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, told the New York Times.
“While we were all rejoicing for the vaccine, here is the possibility of a change of epidemiological context that makes our next few months much more complex and more perilous to navigate,” he said. “Evidence is accumulating that the variant is more transmissible, and this implies that it will likely require an even greater effort to keep spreading under control.”
Canadian officials have detected at least two cases in Ontario, according to The Washington Post. A couple from a town north of Toronto contracted the variant but had no travel history, which means it likely came from community spread.
The mutation has been found in seven people in Japan who had either traveled to Great Britain or been in contact with someone who did. Japan will close its borders to non-residents on Monday, a ban that will last through the end of January, according to the BBC.
In Spain, the variant has been found in Madrid, where four cases have been confirmed and three are probable, according to The Guardian. All these cases are linked to recent travel to Great Britain.
The first case in France was found in Tours, about 150 miles southwest of Paris, according to Reuters. The French citizen was living in Great Britain and traveled from London to central France on Dec. 19, a day before the British government started the lockdown. The man doesn’t have symptoms and is isolating at home.
Sweden also detected its first case this weekend, Reuters reported. The traveler visited the country from Great Britain for Christmas and is isolating in Sormland, a city south of Stockholm.
Viruses mutate often. Several coronavirus mutations have been detected this year, but they were minor, The New York Times reported.
The latest version of the virus found in Great Britain has 23 mutations, which may change how it is transmitted. A new study published by British researchers last week found that the variant may be 56% more contagious, but they didn’t find any evidence that it causes more severe COVID-19.
Vaccine specialists say that current COVID-19 vaccines should be able to block the new variant.
“The preliminary findings are pretty convincing that more rapid vaccination is going to be a really important thing for any country that has to deal with this or similar variants,” Nicholas Davies, the lead author and an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the newspaper.
Additional variants have been identified in South Africa, Nigeria, and other countries as well, according to CBS News.
The U.S. hasn’t yet reported any cases of the mutation. However, the U.S. will require airline passengers from the United Kingdom to test negative within 72 hours of their departure, the CDC announced. The new rule will begin on Monday.