China halts flights with UK over mutated strain

▲A person walks past a sign at Waterloo Underground Station in London, Britain, on Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua)

Taking into account the practices of other countries, China on Thursday announced the suspension of flights to and from the UK due to a new coronavirus strain, the Chinese foreign ministry announced. 

“Considering the specific nature of the virus and its possible impact, in order to protect the health of Chinese and foreign personnel, China has suspended flights to and from the UK after a full assessment and taking into account the practices of other countries,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced during Thursday’s routine press conference.  

A variation of the novel coronavirus was recently detected in the UK and the World Health Organization has been notified. Several countries have announced measures such as closing borders and banning flights from the UK.

Wang said that China will closely follow the situation and adjust relevant control measures according to the situation.

Experts said that China’s decision is reasonable in terms of preventing COVID-19 importation, since cluster infections caused by cases from overseas have been reported now and then in multiple Chinese cities like Beijing and Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Based on such practices, the risk of new local infections caused by the variants found in the UK still exists, Lu Hongzhou, co-director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center at Fudan University, told the Global Times.

A Beijing-based expert on immunology told the Global Times that the suspension meets the international practice being adopted in many countries and regions as the situation in the UK is worsening, and it poses greater infection risks.

However, as China has gained rich experience in epidemic control, a large-scale outbreak caused by an imported case will not occur, Lu noted.

Apart from the variant that the UK reported to the WHO on December 14, which is up to 70 percent more transmissible than earlier versions, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday that yet another variant has been detected in the country. Both of them are more infectious, he noted.

The nature of the new variants is not yet certain, experts said, calling for quick research into the new variants.

Scientific research should be stepped up to find out whether the pathogenicity and infectivity of the mutated virus has been enhanced, and whether vaccines will still be effective, as the virus will continue to mutate, Lu said.

“So far, particularly unfavorable conditions to humans caused by the variants have not been observed, but the mutations are worthy of attention and tracking,” the Beijing expert said, noting that the requirements for vaccines might possibly increase if the mutations, which are reportedly more transmissible, can increase the infection rate. 

“Generally, we can achieve herd immunity with a 70-percent vaccination rate. But if the virus’ infectivity increases, the infection rate may be higher and we may need more people to be vaccinated,” he said.

He also noted that people need to pay attention to whether animals are being infected by the variants. China also needs to strengthen inspection on the entry of live animals to prevent the variants coming in.

Due to pandemic prevention reasons, the Chinese Visa Application Service Center in London suspended operations from Tuesday.

China’s Sichuan Airlines suspended flights on a UK-China route with a stopover in a third country from Wednesday, reports said. 

China Southern Airlines said on Thursday that it will suspend round trips between Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong Province and London from Thursday to January 7 due to COVID-19 control measures. 

So far, more than 40 countries and regions have suspended flights from the UK or imposed stricter entry protocols on arrivals from the UK, as the new variant has swept across the country.

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