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Thursday, February 25, 2021

France and Spain confirm first cases of new coronavirus variant

Several European countries have reported their first cases of the new coronavirus variant discovered in the UK – and many more have taken their first delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.

Sweden is the latest to confirm a case of the variant – a traveller from the UK who fell ill upon arrival and later tested positive for the faster-spreading strain, before going into isolation.

A case in France is a French citizen who lives in England and had left London for Tours on 19 December. He is currently self-isolating at home and is said to be doing fine.

Spain also reported its first case of the variant on Saturday, although no further details have yet been revealed.

The new variant, dubbed VUI-202012/01, has worried experts and world leaders as it is thought to be up to 70% more transmissible – meaning it can spread much faster.

After the variant was identified in southeast England, countries across the world scrambled to close their borders to the UK and prevent it from reaching their citizens.

France imposed some of the strictest travel restrictions on UK travellers, preventing hauliers from crossing the Channel in the run-up to Christmas and causing chaos at the Port of Dover.

On Tuesday evening, the UK and French governments reached an agreement allowing rail, air and sea services to resume for French citizens or residents, or for urgent reasons such as hauliers transporting goods.

They are now allowed to cross the border if they have a negative coronavirus test.

However, the case discovered by French health authorities entered France before the travel ban was imposed.

Earlier this week, French health minister Olivier Veran admitted it was “entirely possible” the new variant was already circulating in the country, despite officials having found no evidence at the time.

Spain also banned entrants from the UK from Tuesday this week, although Spanish nationals were allowed to return, with the move having been brought in just two days before Christmas.

Cases of the new variant have also been confirmed in Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and Australia.

While it is believed to spread faster, there is no evidence so far that the new variant causes more serious illness or is able to evade vaccines – the first of which has started to arrive in several European countries.

Greece, Germany, Spain and Italy are among those that have taken deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, and 10,000 doses will arrive in Ireland ahead of its vaccination programme beginning on Wednesday.

European countries have started taking deliveries after the jab was approved by the European Medicines Agency.

(SKYNEWS)

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