SACRAMENTO (CBS SF/AP) — California health officials could require visitors from the United Kingdom to quarantine to safeguard against a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus in England.
Dozens of countries have already placed travel restrictions on the U.K. because of a new COVID strain which the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said appears to be “significantly more transmissible,” but preliminary analysis suggests infections are not more severe. Still, experts have stressed that more infections will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said officials have been in contact with airlines that serve the U.K. and with stakeholders in the state over possible restrictions on travel, but are looking toward the federal government to provide initial guidance.
“I hope the federal government takes action in this space. They should,” said Newsom. “We’ve seen Canada, we’ve seen so many other jurisdictions around the world that have. In the absence of that, we’ll be pursuing different strategies on testing and quarantine and those have been activated in terms of those conversations.”
California launched a statewide testing system in July designed to catch new strains and genomic sequencing shows no new COVID strain in the state of the California.
“We have a genomic sequencing effort that exists on a daily basis in the state,” Newsom said. “We test anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 samples every single day for mutations.”
Officials say cases of the new strain, known as 501.V2, have been discovered only in other European countries and in South Africa.
The California COVID Tracker, a partnership between the state Department of Public Health, UCSF and the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub, performs a genetic analysis on a portion positive COVID test samples in an effort to identify the “genetic fingerprint” of new strains of the virus.
“That level of analysis — that fingerprinting — requires a more detailed map of the virus that we don’t usually collect. But I definitely think there is some utility in knowing what strains are in the environment and continually to monitor those,” says Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert with UCSF.
California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said new viruses are always prone to mutations, and this variant appears to be a little more “sticky” than the original COVID-19 virus in terms of how it binds to cells.
“The new mutated COVID virus seems to bind a little tighter, a little more easily and enter the cell of the human body easier than our current COVID virus that we have here, primarily in California and the United States,” said Ghaly. “So what does that mean exactly? It means that an exposure to somebody with the new strain may mean that you are more likely to get infected than if you were exposed to the current strain. And that is why we’re worried.”
“We haven’t yet seen what we call increased virulence, meaning that people necessarily get sicker with this new strain,” said Ghaly. “But the fact that it infects more easily, it seems, is what we are worried about.”
Trucks waiting to get out of Britain backed up for miles and people were left stranded at airports Monday as dozens of countries around the world slapped tough travel restrictions on the U.K. over the new coronavirus strain.
Canada, India, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden were among the countries that suspended flights from Britain for various lengths of time, while France barred the entry of trucks from Britain for 48 hours while the strain is assessed.
Eurotunnel, the rail operator that carries passengers and freight between Britain and mainland Europe, also suspended service out of the U.K.
Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures in London and neighboring areas where Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain is “out of control.”
Over the weekend, Johnson said early indications are that the variant is 70% more transmissible, and it’s driving the rapid spread of infections in the capital and surrounding areas.
In the United States, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been calling on the U.S. to halt flights as well, said he asked airlines flying into his state from the U.K. to make all passengers take a coronavirus test before boarding. He said at least one carrier, British Airways, agreed to do so.
At Germany’s Berlin and Frankfurt airports, passengers arriving from Britain had to spend Sunday night in the terminals as they awaited test results.
Experts said the early evidence indicates the strain is not more lethal, and they expressed confidence that the vaccines now being rolled out would still be effective against it.
Devin Fehely contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.