London — There is a new strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom that health experts are saying is more contagious. At least 40 countries are taking drastic action to isolate the U.K., closing borders, cutting off trade routes and restricting travel, resulting in chaotic scenes at airports and on the roads.
Despite this, experts say there is currently no evidence that the new strain causes illnesses to be more severe. It’s also unclear whether that strain is already here in America. There are growing calls to ban all flights from the U.K. to the United States. The restrictions come as the U.S. becomes the first country to employ two vaccines against COVID-19.
In London, some travelers crammed into train stations, desperate to get out of the city. Britain has now ground to a halt just two days after it was revealed a variant of COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire.
Holiday travel does not appear to be slowing down. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said British Airways and Delta Airlines have both agreed to begin testing passengers traveling from London to New York, as concerns grow over this new strain that health experts say does not seem to be more dangerous, but definitely more contagious.
Hundreds of trucks at the busy Dover port now sit idle after France tightened its borders, raising real concerns over food shortages. The panic is now spreading across the globe.
So far, Americans can still travel from the U.K. to the U.S. without government restrictions. But with infections from the new strain of COVID-19 still shooting through the roof and huge chunks of England’s southeast now under strict lockdown, it’s an uphill battle.
The new strain was first detected in September and now accounts for nearly two-thirds of all new transmissions across the U.K. Experts say that’s because it contains mutations that make it up to 70% more infectious than other strains.
The World Health Organization insists the coronavirus is mutating “at a much slower rate” than seasonal influenza. But this latest crisis is like no other and it’s now up to the British government to find a way out of it.
In New York, Cuomo is sounding the alarm. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” Cuomo said Monday. “Why are we doing nothing?”
Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins University, said it’s too early to tell the impact of the strain. “Right now, there’s no evidence that this new variant will make our vaccine less effective or that it will make tests less effective,” Rivers said.
Despite warnings by the CDC urging Americans to avoid travel, the nation’s airports are more crowded than any time since the pandemic began. The TSA screened more than 3 million passengers over the past three days.
In California, where hospitalizations have again hit an all-time high, there was despair in one doctor’s voice.
“If you walk through my hospital, you would not feel like you were in the United States,” said Dr. Armand Dorian of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
Los Angeles County hospitals have never been taxed like this before. Amid so much misery inside the nation’s COVID-19 wards, there was one welcome sight in Kentucky.
Phillip Draper, 65, was released from a Kentucky hospital this weekend after 21 days on maximum oxygen support. He was able to hug his wife.
“I love you. Let’s get you home,” she said.
Mola Lenghi contributed reporting.