The discovery of a new “out of control” variant of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom prompted several European countries on Sunday, including Germany, France, Italy and Ireland, to suspend their links with this country, this which is growing concern as the end of the year holidays approach, which will be subject to severe restrictions.
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However, European Union experts have come to the conclusion that the current COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against the new variant, the German government announced on Sunday evening.
“From all that we know at the moment and following discussions that have taken place between experts from the European authorities”, the new strain “has no impact on vaccines Which remain “just as effective,” Health Minister Jens Spahn, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said on television.
Germany’s decision to interrupt its links with the United Kingdom, which currently only concerns flights and which could be adopted by the whole of the EU, must be formalized in the coming hours ”, a government source told AFP, adding that European states were discussing a joint response on maritime, rail and road links in parallel.
France, for its part, is suspending all travel by people from the United Kingdom from midnight on Sunday for 48 hours. “Only unaccompanied freight will therefore be authorized. Flows of people or transport to the United Kingdom are not affected, ”the government said.
Besides Germany and France, a dozen European Union countries, including Italy and Ireland, have announced similar measures.
Outside the EU, this is also the case for Kuwait, Iran (for two weeks), Switzerland, El Salvador and Israel, the latter three countries having also suspended their links with Africa. South where the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 was also detected. Saudi Arabia has stopped all international flights as well as access to its ports for at least a week.
As a result of these measures, Boris Johnson is due to chair a meeting on Monday “to discuss the situation concerning international travel and in particular the regular flow of freight to and from the United Kingdom”, while the port of Dover, serving in particular the France, announced to close for outgoing traffic.
The new strain of the virus is “out of control”, acknowledged Sunday the British Minister of Health, Matt Hancock, thus justifying a re-containment of London and part of England. “It will be very difficult to keep it under control until a vaccine is widely distributed.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel spoke on Sunday to discuss this new variant of the coronavirus.
” No proof ”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Disease Agency on Sunday called on their members in Europe to strengthen their controls to combat the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus, in particular by improving their capacity to detect the strain.
The European Disease Control Agency (ECDC), which includes around thirty countries including members of the EU and the United Kingdom, has “not ruled out” that the variant circulates outside British territory. .
Italy has, moreover, announced Sunday evening to have detected a first case diagnosed by the Celio military hospital in Rome. Some other contaminations had already been reported in Denmark (nine), as well as a case in the Netherlands and Australia, underlined the WHO.
In addition to “preliminary signs that the variant could be more contagious”, the new British strain “could also affect the effectiveness of certain diagnostic methods,” continued the World Health Organization.
There is however for the moment “no evidence of a change in the severity of the disease”.
Boris Johnson had said on Saturday that the new variant of the virus was up to 70 percent more contagious than the previous strain.
In order to curb this mutant version, more than 16 million Londoners and inhabitants of the south-east of England woke up on Sunday under new confinement, forced to put an end to Christmas.
“Christmas in January”
Oxford Street, central London’s main shopping street, was deserted. “If it’s necessary, so be it,” confided, resignedly, Liz Field, a 73-year-old retiree. “We can celebrate (Christmas) in January, February”.
Italy, also hard hit, will reconfigure itself for the holidays from Monday.
Switzerland on Saturday became the first country in continental Europe to authorize a vaccine against COVID-19, Pfizer / BioNTech.
A decision taken after the green light given to the same vaccine by more than 15 other countries, including the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Kingdom, Jordan, Singapore and Mexico.
Additional doses in the United States
In the EU, the vaccination campaign is expected to start on December 27, 28 and 29, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Member state ambassadors will have a crisis meeting Monday in Brussels devoted to travel restrictions caused by the new strain of the virus.
It is also this Monday that the European Medicines Agency will examine the fate of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which should be authorized within two days by the Commission.
Ambassadors are expected to discuss measures such as PCR tests for travelers arriving from Britain, an EU official said.
Although still not having decided on the choice of vaccine, Algeria announced Sunday that it would launch its vaccination campaign in January.
In the United States, some 7.9 million doses of additional vaccine will be delivered from Monday.
This country, whose president-elect Joe Biden will be vaccinated on Monday, is facing a dramatic rebound in the epidemic, with more than 316,202 dead and more than 17.65 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The pandemic has killed at least 1.68 million people worldwide, according to an AFP report on Sunday.