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Illustration by Security Management

New Virus Strain Triggers UK Lockdowns, Travel Bans

A new, fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus has forced Britain to lockdown London and southeast England, impacting more than 16 million Britons. The measures ban household mixing in London and the southeast and restrict socializing to just Christmas Day—instead of the planned five-day easing of restrictions—across the rest of England.

The new virus strain—which currently appears largely unique to the UK—can spread much more quickly than previous strains and is behind a massive surge in infections, Bloomberg reported. Over the past week, COVID-19 cases nearly doubled in London; almost 60 percent of these infections have been attributed to the new strain. While the new strain seems more contagious, it does not currently appear to have a higher mortality rate, and there is no evidence that it will resist any vaccines or treatments.

“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” Johnson said at a news conference on Saturday. “Without action the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed, and many thousands more would lose their lives.”

A new top tier of pandemic restrictions—Tier 4—were announced for hotspot regions around London. All non-essential shops are ordered to close and 16.4 million people were ordered to stay home. People are advised not to enter Tier 4 areas, and residents of those areas must not stay overnight away from home. The rules will apply for two weeks.

Multiple nations have barred travel from the UK starting on Sunday, including France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Bulgaria, and Canada, The Associated Press reported. Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam were halted, and no passenger flights from Britain were permitted to land in Germany starting Sunday.

In Central America, El Salvador announced it would refuse entry to anyone who had visited Britain in the last 30 days. Israel is banning flights from Britain, Denmark, and South Africa—two other countries where the new strain has been detected, the AP reported. Saudi Arabia has halted international flights and closed its borders for one week over fears about the new strain of the coronavirus.

Supply chains have also ground to a halt. France stopped all travel from the UK for 48 hours, including shipping and trucks, until officials could find a “common doctrine” on how to manage the threat. The Port of Dover’s ferry terminal was closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until the French border restrictions were addressed. Traffic into the UK is unaffected, Bloomberg reported, but the latest outbreak may discourage freight drivers and their companies from entering the island, and perishable products like seafood—bound for holiday markets in Europe—could spoil before restrictions are lifted.