The new strain – feared to be 70 per cent more transmissible and to spread more easily among children – has led to calls for the US to impose a travel ban on Britain, as dozens of countries including Canada have already done.
But Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the FDA, told CNBC that the new strain ‘is already in the US’ and that a travel ban would not keep it out. ‘As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants,’ he warned. Jeremy Luban, a University of Massachusetts virologist, told the Washington Post that the new strain ‘may have even started here’ – suggesting it might have been detected in Britain first because the UK has a genome sequencing program hailed as the ‘best in the world’ compared to the ‘sporadic’ one in the US.
‘It may very well be here. It may have even started here. The sequencing in the US is so sporadic,’ he said.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo also said he believed the new strain had reached the US, while Dr Anthony Fauci said that ‘you really need to assume it’s here already’.
‘I would not be surprised at all if it’s already here,’ Fauci told Good Morning America – saying that compulsory testing might be needed to fly to the US but that banning travel completely would be a ‘rather dramatic step’.
Dr Shira Doron, an epidemiologist in Boston, told NBC10 that she ‘can’t imagine it wouldn’t be’ in the United States already. ‘Would I expect to see that variance in the US? Of course. People are traveling all the time. I would expect to see that,’ she said.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, said it would ‘not shock me at all to find out’ that the strain is already in the US.
‘I don’t think a travel ban is going to be particularly helpful. We already have out-of-control transmission of all the variants that are circulating in the US here,’ she said. ‘It makes sense that it was detected first in the UK because they have probably the world’s best surveillance program.’
A scientist on the UK’s advisory panel, Calum Semple, warned on Monday that the new mutation was likely to become the dominant strain around the world – predicting that it would ‘out-compete’ other forms of the virus.
The mutation has been blamed by UK politicians for a resurgence in cases in the south of England which seemed to defy a November lockdown. But other experts have played down concerns, saying the 70 per cent claim is unproven.
Dr Anthony Fauci said on Monday that the general American public will likely begin receiving the Covid-19 vaccine by early spring.
It contradicted a prediction by Joe Biden’s nominee for US surgeon-general that the shot would not be available until mid-summer or early fall.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Health and Infectious Diseases, conceded that it would take several months before the vast majority of the country’s population is immunized.
‘I think people are getting a little confused about when they can expect [the vaccine]. If you start vaccinating parts of the general public in April, by the time you get to the end of August … that’s when we should see an overwhelming majority.’
‘That’s if you vaccinate very aggressively in May, June and July,’ he added.
Biden nominee Dr Vivek Murthy had said that ‘it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population’.
Fauci said on GMA today that he would be getting the Moderna vaccine, adding that ‘I feel very good about it’.
‘It’s sort of a double positive – one, in general, I want to symbolize to people the importance that everyone gets vaccinated who can get vaccinated – but also, it’s a good feeling of accomplishment because this [originated] in laboratories in my institute,’ he said.
Fauci, who said he hoped Biden would get more people to wear masks, also made a last-minute Christmas plea for people to minimize travel and hold small-scale gatherings – saying that ‘we really do need to hang in there… we’re in a precarious situation. The end is in sight.’
Monday marked the second week of the Pfizer vaccine roll-out across the country, and the first round of shipments of the Moderna vaccine after it was given approval by US regulators.
Millions of frontline healthcare workers, including those working in long-term care facilities, have been lined up to receive the first doses.
Blaming the threat of the mutant virus, Johnson put millions of people back into lockdown in England and drastically tightened Christmas rules for others.
Johnson said the UK was ‘fairly certain the variant is transmitted more quickly, saying that ‘it may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the old variant’.
Peter Horby, the chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said scientists have ‘high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK’.