The Netherlands has banned all flights from the United Kingdom out of concern for a new mutation of the virus that causes Covid-19.
The new mutation has emerged in the South-east of England, leading yesterday to the UK government deciding not to relax the tight rules on gatherings it had intended to make more supple over Christmas.
Now one case has been detected in the Netherlands, leading to the flight ban. The person was infected at the beginning of December, and an investigation is now under way into how and where the infection took place, and how many people the person may have come into contact with since.
According to UK prime minister Boris Johnson, the new virus, named SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, is 70% more infectious than the original.
The World Health Organisation is now in contact with the UK authorities.
“We’re in close contact with UK officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant,”the WHO announced on it Twitter feed.
“They’ll continue to share info & results of their analysis & ongoing studies. We’ll update Member States & public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant & any implications.”
We’re in close contact with UK ?? officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant. They’ll continue to share info & results of their analysis & ongoing studies. We’ll update Member States & public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant & any implications.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 19, 2020
The organisation stressed the importance of applying the hygiene rules in place since the beginning of the pandemic – hand hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing – which apply as much to the new variant as to the old.
The Dutch health ministry issued a statement.
"Over the next few days, together with other member countries of the European Union, (the Dutch government) will explore the possibilities to further limit the risk of the new strain of the virus being imported from the United Kingdom,” the ministry.
In Belgium, virologist Marc Van Ranst said the new variant was “minor” and had been detected in Belgium in recent months.
“We observed four cases in our lab,” he said. “Viruses are continually mutating, and when they do, they often become more transmissible but not more pathogenic.”
The new variant in England is not a cause for concern, he said.
“We are particularly concerned about the rising numbers in our country,” he said.
“The fact that the UK is adopting stricter measures is mainly due to the sharp increase in the number of cases, rather than the new strain.”
Brussels Airport said this morning it was not aware of any knock-on effect of the Dutch ban. No flights have been diverted to Zaventem so far.
UPDATE: See latest development.
The Dutch ban, meanwhile, came onto force at 06.00 this morning (Sunday) and will run until 1 January.
The Brussels Times