New coronavirus variant reaches Canada, Japan and several EU countries
Cases of a new variant of COVID-19 first detected in England were confirmed by health officials in Canada, Japan and several more European Union countries Saturday.
Why it matters: While there's no evidence the variant is more deadly than the original strain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that it could be 70% more transmissible prompted dozens of countries to ban travel from the United Kingdom.
- The strain, called B.1.1.7, spurred a cases spike that saw tens of millions of people in England and Wales lock down over the holidays.
- Some officials worry it may have been spreading unnoticed worldwide, as few countries have the kind of sophisticated genomic surveillance that enabled British scientists to find the variant, per the New York Times.
What’s happening: The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed the first two cases in North America of the new coronavirus strain Saturday evening, in the province of Ontario.
- The agency noted in a statement "these two cases did not travel outside of Canada."
Officials in Japan said Saturday the country would close its border to all non-resident foreign nationals from midnight Monday through Jan. 31 after seven people tested positive for the variant, broadcaster NHK reports.
In Spain, Madrid's regional government announced Saturday that four people had become infected with the B.1.1.7 strain, according to Al Jazeera.
Sweden's Public Health Agency said Saturday the strain had been detected in a newly returned traveler from the U.K., Reuters notes.
France's health ministry confirmed the first B.1.1.7 case in the country late Friday, per AFP.
For the record: Coronavirus vaccines are starting to be rolled out across North America, European Union countries and nations around the world.
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Saturday, "Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic."
- There's no evidence the B.1.1.7 strain can affect the effectiveness of these vaccinations.