The UK Is a Hellscape, and We're All Stuck in It

News of a "mutant" COVID strain has led to travel bans and potential food shortages. Merry Christmas!
London, GB
Photo: Islandstock / Alamy Stock Photo

Christmas was cancelled for millions in London and the UK’s South East this weekend, thanks to an increase in coronavirus cases and the emergence of a new COVID-19 mutation, with the phrase “Plague Island” now trending on Twitter.

This mutation is said to be up to 70 percent more transmittable than the original virus, but that figure is by no means conclusive: there are questions as to whether it is actually more infectious at all, or was just able to spread quickly through areas that were formerly under Tier 2 restrictions, such as London.


In response, a number of countries have banned travel from the UK. Add this to the fact we still haven’t secured a deal with the EU, and one could argue that the UK is on the verge of becoming something of a pariah state.

So: what’s really going on, and just how grim should we be finding all of this?

How Worried Should We Be About the New COVID-19 Strain?

Boris Johnson has warned that the new strain could increase the R rate (which represents the average number of people a person with COVID goes on to infect) by more than 0.4, representing a significant boost in the virus’ infectiousness.

Some credible sources have expressed scepticism about this new data. Dr Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert and advisor to the government, told the New York Times that the estimate of greater transmissibility is “based on modelling and has not been confirmed in lab experiments".

Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst, who has studied the new strain in a lab, has declared that it’s only “a minor variant”. He said: “The new variant in England does not cause any additional concern.”


Both Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty – the British government’s chief science and medical advisors, respectively – have confirmed that there’s currently no indication this new strain is any more dangerous. Catching it won’t make you any more sick, they explained, nor is it more likely to kill you. Experts have also clarified that the vaccines will still work on the new strain, saying it would take years, not months, for mutations to affect the vaccine’s efficacy.

Where Have People in the UK Been Banned from Travelling?

Concern about the new mutant strain spread fast, and a large number of countries wasted no time in shutting their borders to England. First up, Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland would be banning travel between the two nations “for all but the most essential purposes”. It wasn’t long before a host of countries across the world followed suit.

At this stage, it would almost be easier to list the countries that we’re not banned from. But as it stands, people living in the UK can’t travel to the following countries: Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Finland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, France, Sweden, Turkey, Hong Kong, Canada, Israel, El Salvador, Colombia, Morocco, China and Argentina.


Some of these have time limits imposed on their travel bans, others are indefinite. Some countries are allowing native citizens to travel, while others aren’t. The list continues to grow.

What’s Happening with the Channel Tunnel?

As well as blocking personal travel, France has also banned freight hauliers (i.e. deliveries of goods) for 48 hours, which is expected to cause havoc at Britain’s ports. Freight lorries will not be allowed to cross either by sea or via the Eurotunnel.

This news has sparked concern around food and medicine shortages, as well as fears that supplies of the Pfizer vaccine could be blocked. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has attempted to reassure the public that this won’t be a problem in the short term. Today, Boris Johnson will chair an emergency Cobra meeting in an attempt to address the problem.

While the government say we won’t have to worry about medicine shortages any time soon, Richard Burnett – head of the Road Haulage Association – told the BBC that the blockade could lead to fresh food shortages. According to Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, this “has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies”.

Sainsbury’s has also warned of food and drink shortages within days if the situation isn’t promptly resolved. A spokesperson said: “If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit.”

Merry Christmas. We live in a hellscape, and we’re trapped here with no satsumas.