The UK COVID-19 cases are rising amid concerns over a new variant

France today eased part of the travel ban from England, a move sparked by the discovery of a rapidly spreading version of the coronavirus in the UK.

France was among the approximately 50 countries that imposed travel restrictions with the United Kingdom due to concerns about that variant (see related news on CIDRAP). The French travel ban has created a huge reserve of trucks waiting to board ferries to France in the port of Dover.

Under the agreement with the British government, truck drivers, French citizens and British citizens living in France are allowed to travel to France from England if they had less than 72 hours before taking a negative test for coronavirus, reports the BBC. National Health Service staff has been deployed in the port to test thousands of truck drivers.

The tests that are applied are fast side flow tests, which can return results in 30 minutes. England’s public health said today that tests could reveal a variant under investigation (VUI) 202012/01, which has been spreading rapidly in the south-east and east of England in recent weeks and which is believed to be more transferable.

England today reported 39,237 new cases of COVID-19, which is a record high, according to government data. The number of new infections recorded in the past 7 days is 61% higher than the previous week. Concerns over the new variant and an increase in the number of cases in the country have prompted British health officials to impose level 4 restrictions – the strictest national measures against coronavirus – on additional regions in the East and South East of England, according to the BBC.

Continuous increase in global cases, deaths

In its Sunday epidemiological update COVID-19, released yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the identification of VUI 202012/01 in England, noting that it can spread faster than other strains. The WHO said that an investigation is underway to determine whether the variant causes a more serious infection or affects the antibody response or the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The WHO weekly report also showed that global cases of COVID-19 and mortality continued to rise, climbing 6% and 4%, respectively, during the week ending December 20th. The American region reported the largest share of new infections, with more than 2.3 million, while Europe reported the highest number of new deaths (36,286).

Although most countries in the region were locked in some form during the Christmas and New Year holidays, Europe again saw a small increase (2%) in COVID-19 cases from the previous week, after a few weeks of decline in November. More than a third of all new European cases came from Turkey, Russia and Germany. Italy reported the most deaths from COVID-19 during the week, at 4,411.

Although new cases in America are mostly triggered by the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Canada also contribute to a significant number of new infections. And Argentina and Panama saw a 21% and 31% increase in new cases over the past week, respectively.

The region that has sharply increased the number of new COVID cases and deaths over the past week is Africa, which has seen a 27% increase in new cases and a 34% increase in virus-related deaths. South Africa reported the most new cases in the region, 59,512. The country has also discovered a new variant of the coronavirus that is believed to be more transmissible. The South African wave is concentrated in four provinces – Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal – and has spurred new orders to stay at home.

Other African countries reporting an increase in new COVID-19 cases are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.