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New strain 56% more contagious

UK COVID variant confirmed in France, Germany, other countries

PARIS (AFP) — A mutated coronavirus strain spreading in Britain is on average 56 percent more contagious than the original version, scientists have warned in a study, urging a fast vaccine rollout to help prevent more deaths.

The new variant, which emerged in southeast England in November and is spreading fast, is likely to boost hospitalizations and deaths from COVID next year, according to the study published Wednesday by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Researchers, focusing on the English south east, east and London, said it was still uncertain whether the mutated strain was more or less deadly than its predecessor.

Nevertheless, the increase in transmissibility is likely to lead to a large increase in incidence, with COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths projected to reach higher levels in 2021 than were observed in 2020, even if regional tiered restrictions implemented before 19 December are maintained,” they said.

The authors warned that a national lockdown imposed in England in November was unlikely to prevent an increase of infections “unless primary schools, secondary schools, and universities are also closed“.

Any easing of control measures, meanwhile, would likely prompt “a large resurgence of the virus“.

This meant that “it may be necessary to greatly accelerate vaccine roll-out to have an appreciable impact in suppressing the resulting disease burden“.

In announcing more stringent lockdown measures over the Christmas holiday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday the new viral strain “may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original version of the disease“.

The discovery of the new strain set off alarm bells worldwide just as more countries began vaccination campaigns to halt a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.7 million lives since it emerged a year ago in China.

Many countries quickly imposed bans on travel from Britain, but EU governments have since begun to relax the restrictions.

The co-founder of BioNTech — one of the firms behind the vaccine that is being rolled out worldwide this week — has said its drug is “highly likely” to work against the mutated strain detected in Britain and otherwise can be adapted in six weeks.

Germany records 1st case of UK COVID strain

Germany on Thursday recorded its first case of the mutant coronavirus variant sweeping Britain, after a woman who flew in from London tested positive for the strain.

It is the first known case in Germany,” the health ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg state said in a statement.

The woman had arrived in Frankfurt airport on December 20 from London Heathrow.

She was driven home by her relatives into quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 on arrival at the airport.

A day later, she began showing mild symptoms and a second test also turned up positive.

A sample of her swab test was sent to a specialised laboratory for further analysis.

Today the virus variant B.1.1.7 was detected there,” added the regional ministry.

Germany on Tuesday extended a ban on arrivals from the United Kingdom until January 6 after the new strain, which British authorities say is more infectious, appeared there.

Case confirmed in France

The first case of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain has been confirmed in France, the health ministry said on Friday.

The person — a French citizen living in Britain — is asymptomatic and self-isolating at home in Tours in central France, the ministry said. The person arrived from London on December 19 and was tested in hospital on December 21.