The U.K. Says a Faster-Spreading Strain of COVID-19 Is Circulating: Here's What to Know

The United Kingdom tightened COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday due to a new, faster-spreading strain of the virus that experts say is moving through the commonwealth.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that London and other parts of Southeast England would move to the highest level of restrictions after England’s public health officials confirmed that a variant of COVID-19 found in the country is moving 70 percent faster than other types.

What to know

The strain, which Public Health England (PHE) has named ‘VUI – 202012/01,’ was first identified in September as experts analyzed samples from positive COVID-19 cases in southeastern England. However, experts emphasize that it's common for different strains of viruses to exist, and that COVID-19 has already mutated multiple times before.

Officials said that while this strain appears to be spreading faster than others, there is no evidence that it leads to more severe COVID-19 illness or is more deadly.

“We are investigating a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19], predominantly in Kent and the surrounding areas,” Dr. Susan Hopkins, a medical advisor at PHE, said in a statement. “It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose.”

“There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected,” she added.

The strain may also appear to be spreading faster because people are disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and interacting more, experts said.

“We can’t entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behavior,” Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government, told The New York Times.

Vaccine concerns

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, experts said that there is no evidence that this strain will be resistant to Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines.

“There is no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well,” Vivek H. Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, said on Meet the Press. “The bottom line is if you’re at home and hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions.”

Travel Restrictions

COVID-19 cases with this strain have been identified in Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands, and on Monday, the European Union placed a travel ban on the U.K. effective immediately, until midnight on Tuesday.

In the U.S., the Trump administration has said that they will not impose a ban on travel to and from the U.K., which is one of the only places in Europe that is currently allowing Americans.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing czar, said Sunday that the strain has not been detected in the U.S., but they will continue to monitor the situation.

“I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Giroir said on This Week.

In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the Trump administration to reconsider and impose a travel ban.

“Right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to JFK,” Cuomo said.

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