Dozens of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Iran, Colombia, and Morocco, have suspended flights from the United Kingdom for 48 hours or but it could be longer. Saudi Arabia has closed its borders and suspended all flights regardless of destination or origin after reports from Britain and South Africa of new coronavirus strains that seem to spread more easily are causing alarm. But virus experts say it’s unclear if that’s the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or cause more severe disease.
Crisis meetings were scheduled in London and Brussels as officials grappled with how to respond to the variant, which experts estimate could be 70% more transmissible than others in circulation. The strain moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant, causing over 60% of infections in London by December 2020. The strain is also concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells.
That spike is what current vaccines target. Scientists who had a closer look at its genome were struck by the relatively large number of mutations — 23 altogether — that it’s acquired. Most mutations that arise in the coronavirus are either harmful to the virus or have no effect one way or another. But a number of the mutations in B.1.1.7- the strain name- looked as if they could potentially affect how the virus spread.