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New Corona Strain In UK: No Christmas, Messy Brexit – What Next?

“Now, here we are, clinging to the hope of a COVID vaccine, while facing a long, cold, grey and lonely winter.”

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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First, we, in the United Kingdom,were told to have a ‘merry little Christmas’ and people rushed to do their Christmas shopping, buying their Christmas turkey, preparing for the five-day Christmas window which they would spend with family, throwing caution to the winds because of the hope of the vaccine.

But within days the UK has now ended up being a global ‘pariah’, thanks to the ‘out of control’ new coronavirus strain(s).

Last week, the UK warned of a new coronavirus variant that is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) informed that the new variant has so far been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.

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Concerns Of A No-Deal Brexit Add To England’s COVID Chaos & Economic Woes

The virulence of the new strain forced the British government to backtrack on all Christmas plans and force London and other South and Southeast parts of England into the most severe Tier 4 lockdown, with people living in those areas told they would not be allowed to travel to any other lower tier areas and meet no one from other households. As soon as Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement, London stations like Kings Cross, St Pancras swelled up — with people packing into trains like sardines, to escape London. It was followed with a growing number of European countries stopping travel from the UK into their countries.

The travel restrictions are extending to countries across the world, including Canada, Israel, India and Russia.

The whole of England could also be heading for Tier 4 after Christmas.

With concerns of a no-deal Brexit looming large, the latest COVID chaos has only added to woes of England’s economy.

In a surprise move, France has gone further than other European countries and has unilaterally banned people and freight coming from the UK, whether by road, air, sea or rail, for 48 hours from Sunday night.

The port of Dover was also closed to all vehicle traffic leaving the UK, leading to miles of lorry back-ups. There is growing concern that this will lead to food and supply shortages. The food chain Sainsbury’s has already warned that some fruits and vegetables could be missing from its shelves if the freight crisis is not resolved urgently.

Germany, which holds the presidency of the European Union, is holding urgent meetings to resolve the crisis — and the phone lines between Brussels and London are undoubtedly red hot. The situation could further complicate Brexit talks with Britain and the European Union still in deadlock over post-Brexit trade relations as a 31 December deadline looms. Various issues like fisheries are plaguing negotiations.

Under Tier 4 Restrictions, England’s Small & Medium Businesses Suffer

Within the country, with people in Tier 4 not allowed to travel or meet family for Christmas, small and medium businesses are being badly hit. Retail and hospitality are now facing a very dangerous future as they had to shut down within hours of the PM’s latest announcement over the weekend. And this current lockdown is further ominous as scientific experts and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have warned that this level of lockdown may last for months to come, until the rollout of the vaccine, which could be until Easter, despite UK being the first country to roll out the Pfizer vaccine.

The new variant of the virus was first detected in September in Kent, and by November 2020, around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.

The seriousness of the concern is that this variation is reportedly 70 percent more transmissible, although questions remain whether it is more infectious.

Studies now show that the new strain, called N501Y, first emerged in Brazil in April. Reportedly, scientists at the UK’s COG-UK genomics institute were already watching out for the tell-tale mutation after they were tipped off by colleagues in South Africa, where a similar new strain was spiking cases.

It is believed the South African and British variants which share the same mutation, seem to have evolved independently from each other, according to some media reports.

UK, being a world leader in genomics, conducts 45 percent of the world’s genomic research. Now, officials in Northern Ireland, Ireland and France say the strain may have already entered their countries.

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Hope For A COVID Vaccine, But No End In Sight

There is no point is wondering how we ended up in this grand mess. There has been growing criticism from the scientific community of the UK government’s handling of the pandemic, the failure of the confusing ‘tier system’, and not responding to scientific advice in time. As the former Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King said, “This has all been far too little, far too late.”

A year which has been very difficult, is ending miserably.

We are now locked indoors for, no one knows, how many more months, but it has not stopped ‘Covidiots’ from defying rules, thereby endangering others further.

The new mutation has been able to thrive despite England’s nationwide lockdown in November, because the restrictions were ‘less intense’ and people’s attitudes to them were ‘less stringent’ according to Professor Andrew Hayward of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) who warned, “This is really terrible news in terms of the pandemic. If the vaccine is the best news, this is the worst news we’ve had so far and we really, really need to tighten down the hatches to stop the spread while vaccinating as many people as possible”.

In all probability the areas of the country that have not seen huge caseloads of this strain is about three weeks behind those put into Tier 4.

In Tier 4, we have all cancelled Christmas celebrations, informed family that there will be no Christmas dinner together — food bought is being sent off to friends. Now, here we are, clinging to the hope of a COVID vaccine – while facing a long, cold, grey and lonely winter.

It is highly doubtful that COVID-19 is about to make life any easier in 2021.

(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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