Canada banned flights from the U.K. at midnight Sunday, in order to avoid a new, possibly more infectious, COVID-19 strain.
The news comes in response to a mutated variant of the virus in the U.K. that infects people with COVID-19. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson attributed a rise in positive COVID-19 cases in London and England’s southeast region to the new strain, saying it’s 70 percent more transmissible than other variants.
Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair announced the new travel restrictions on Twitter, saying they will last at least 72 hours, with possibility of extension and enhancement.
“We are closing the border to all flights entering Canada from the United Kingdom,” Blair said. “Flights...will be cancelled for the next three days to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country.”
Travellers who arrived in Canada from the U.K. before or shortly after the restrictions came into effect have had to face additional screenings and ramped up scrutiny of their quarantine plans.
The new strain was first spotted in the U.K. in September, according to NBC News. It has not been reported in Canada yet.
According to a statement from Health Canada, evidence about the new strain is limited.
“Given the high number of cases of a variant COVID-19 virus observed in some areas in the United Kingdom, the decision has been made to suspend entry into Canada of all commercial and private passenger flights from the United Kingdom,” the statement says.
There is no reason to believe the mutation will lead to worse symptoms, more death, or will threaten vaccine success, the statement said.
But a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Ravindra Gupta, said he’s worried a new strain resistant to vaccines could surface.
"Whilst it may not be actually resistant, it may not take so many changes after this for it to get there," Gupta told NBC News.
It’s possible that COVID-19 vaccines will work similarly to the flu shot: people will have to receive updated vaccinations every year to avoid new mutations, Gupta added.
Scientists expect mutations overtime as the coronavirus continues to hop from person to person. The latest reported mutations serve as “a real warning that we need to pay closer attention,” Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told the New York Times.
Multiple experts said it will take years before the virus is able to mutate to the point that it renders current vaccine candidates ineffective. “No one should worry that there is going to be a single catastrophic mutation that suddenly renders all immunity and antibodies useless,” Dr. Bloom said.
Canada has been grappling with a severe second wave of COVID-19 for over a month. As of Monday morning, the country had confirmed a total of 507,795 infections and 14,228 deaths. Nunavut, a territory that didn’t report its first COVID-19 case until November reported its first two deaths over the weekend.
Almost two dozen countries have blocked flights from Britain, including France, Iran, Colombia, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Germany, NBC News reported.
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