Travel bans aren’t an effective response to the new Covid variant | Angela Rasmussen

Dramatic international gestures are unlikely to have much impact. It’s hands, masks and space we should be focusing on

By now we all know a new variant of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has been detected in the UK and is spreading rapidly. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, announced that the variant, called B.1.1.7, is up to 70% more transmissible based on modelling studies. B.1.1.7 caused many infections in south-east England in a short period of time, rapidly displacing other circulating variants. Patients infected with B.1.1.7 also had higher viral loads. While this is certainly concerning and warrants urgent scientific investigation, the data supporting that this variant is solely driving the associated uptick in cases is preliminary and inconclusive. Nonetheless, politicians began implementing sweeping policies right away.

Multiple countries have imposed travel bans, greatly reducing travel from the UK or blocking it entirely. France closed its borders to most freight transport. New York governor Andrew Cuomo called on the US government to impose numerous restrictions, including banning travel from Europe. He later settled for mandatory rapid testing for all travellers on US-bound flights from the UK.

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