The discovery of a new coronavirus strain on Danish mink farms has led to the introduction of strict public health measures in the north of the country, with other European nations also responding to the outbreak.
It comes after a warning from Denmark’s national authority for the control of infectious disease, the State Serum Institute, that if the mutant virus were to spread internationally it could have potentially “serious consequences” for a future Covid-19 vaccine.
More than a quarter of a million people in northern Denmark went into lockdown on Friday, with citizens urged to get tested after Covid-19 infections were reported among the mink population in that region.
Restaurants across seven municipalities were ordered to close from Saturday, and schools from fifth grade and above were required to switch to remote learning from Monday.
Elsewhere, the U.K. government implemented stricter rules for arrivals from Denmark. Freight drivers who have been in or travelled through Denmark in the last 14 days, and who are not residents of the U.K., will now be refused entry to Britain. All passenger vessels and accompanying freight from Denmark will also be halted.
In Ireland, passengers arriving from the Scandinavian country have been told to take extra precautions to contain the spread of the newly-discovered coronavirus strain.
The Irish government has said people should restrict their movements for 14 days after entering the country from Denmark, even if they are visiting for an “essential” purpose.
What do we know about this new Covid strain?
Last week, Danish health authorities raised the alarm over a mutant form of the coronavirus that arose in mink farms and has spread to humans.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described the situation as “very, very serious,” and ordered the country’s mink farms to cull all 15 million minks in a move designed to reduce the risk of the animals re-transmitting the strain of the coronavirus to humans.
Data from animal rights group Humane Society International puts Denmark as the world’s second-largest exporter of mink fur, behind China. It says Denmark accounted for roughly half of all of the 35 million mink farmed in Europe in 2018.
Since June, 214 human cases of Covid-19 have been identified in Denmark with variants associated with the farmed minks, the WHO said, including 12 cases with a unique variant, reported on Nov. 5.
All of these 12 cases were found to have originated in North Jutland, Denmark, and the people infected ranged in age from 7 to 79-years-old.
The WHO said initial observations suggested that the clinical presentation, severity and transmission among those infected were similar to that of other circulating coronavirus strains.
The WHO has since launched a review of biosecurity measures in mink farms across the globe.
Too early to ‘come to any conclusions’
The coronavirus is constantly evolving, and, to date, there is no evidence to suggest the mutation identified among Danish mink farms poses an increased danger to people.
As of Monday morning, more than 50.3 million people were reported to have contracted Covid-19 worldwide, with 1.25 million related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Drugmakers and research centers are scrambling to deliver a safe and effective vaccine in an attempt to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said on Friday that it was “a long, long way away” from understanding whether the mutation of the virus could have any implications for diagnostics or vaccines.
The WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, agreed.
“I think that we need to wait and see what the implications are, but I don’t think we should come to any conclusions about whether this particular mutation is going to impact vaccine efficacy or not,” Swaminathan said on Friday.
“We don’t have any evidence at the moment that it would. But we will update you as we get more information.”
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