The highly transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in England had by Saturday been documented in several European countries, Japan, Australia and Lebanon, despite efforts to curb its spread through massive global disruptions in travel and movement.
Fears over the fast-spreading form of the virus that causes covid-19 come in sharp contrast to a wave of hope sweeping some countries and communities as vaccination programs begin to be rolled out. Scientists do not think that the British variant is more deadly or resistant to the current coronavirus vaccines.
The variant has also been detected in France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.
While the United States has not yet reported a case, experts say it is likely due to the nation’s very low rate of genetic sequencing of the virus to check for such changes, despite Americans leading the world in coronavirus infections and deaths.
Beginning Monday, the U.S. government will require all travelers flying in from Britain to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of the plane’s departure. Early in the pandemic, the United States banned travelers from China and the European Union, among others, though by that point the novel coronavirus had already been widely spreading undetected due to limited U.S. testing.
France to allow limited reopening of borders amid coronavirus mutation fearsElsewhere, hopes are tentatively rising. Hungary on Saturday became the first European Union member to begin vaccinations, a day ahead of France, Germany and Spain, among others, who will kick off vaccinating high-risk populations on Sunday.
Scientists, however, are additionally closely following news of another variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in South Africa that experts say also appears to be highly transmissible. British health officials have already documented cases of the South African variant in the United Kingdom.