Health authorities in France and Lebanon have confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus variant that prompted global travel restrictions and strict lockdown measures in the United Kingdom.
The French health ministry said a French man who arrived in France from the British capital, London, on December 19 had tested positive for the new variant on Friday.
He had no symptoms and was isolating in his home in the central city of Tours.
Authorities have carried out contact-tracing for the health professionals taking care of the patient, the ministry said. Any of their contacts that were seen as vulnerable would similarly be isolated, it said.
In addition to this first case, several other positive samples that “may suggest the VOC 202012/01 variant are being sequenced” by the specialist laboratories of the national Pasteur Institute, the statement added.
In Lebanon, the country’s caretaker health minister said on Friday that a case of the new variant was detected on a flight arriving from London.
The Middle East Airlines flight 202 arrived on December 21, Hamad Hassan said, urging all passengers on the flight and their families to take precautionary measures.
Italian authorities have detected the new strain in a patient in Rome, while Japan reported five cases in passengers arriving from the UK. Singapore confirmed one case of the new variant, while the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that nine cases have been detected in Denmark and one each in the Netherlands and Australia.
More than 50 countries have banned travel from the UK after British Prime Minister imposed a strict lockdown in London and warned that the new variant could be up to 70 percent more transmissible. The United States on Thursday said it will require all passengers arriving from the UK to present a negative COVID-19 test for entry, while China suspended all flights from Britain over the new strain.
Other countries that have suspended travel for Britons include France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, and Jordan.
In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.
Authorities in France, following a snap 48-hour travel ban this week, reopened its borders to the UK – partly to allow French citizens to return home, as well as to relieve the massive build-up of freight goods – but had instituted a testing policy.
France’s interior ministry said Thursday that limits on travel from the UK will continue “until at least January 6”.
For now, only citizens of France or the EU, those with residency rights there or business travellers are allowed to make the crossing from the UK – if they can show a negative COVID-19 test less than three days old.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said on December 14 that a spike in COVID cases in the UK might have been linked to the new variant of the virus and that more than 1,000 cases of the new variant had been identified, mainly in southeastern England.
Before Christmas, the health minister had announced the expansion of strict lockdown measures across further parts of the south of England to contain the spread of the disease.
With more than 68,000 deaths from the virus, the UK is one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe.
Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to both the UK and South Africa following the identification of cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus in those countries.
France, meanwhile, registered 20,262 new, confirmed COVID-19 cases and 159 more related deaths in hospitals in the last 24 hours.
France’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases now stands at 2,547,771 while its COVID-19 death toll has reached 62,427 – the seventh-highest in the world.
Lebanon, with an estimated population of 6 million people, has reported more than 165,000 cases and 1,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19.