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A COVID-19 assessment center in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Zou Zheng/Xinhua via GettyImages

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.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.