by Oleg Burunov
Britain has already been hit by the Indian variant of the coronavirus, which led to the highest daily increase in cases late last week.
The spread of a new COVID-19 strain, which is thought to have originated in Nepal, may ride roughshod over UK holidaymakers’ plans, the Daily Mail has reported.
The newspaper cited Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) as saying that the mutant strain is already spreading to Europe and is resistant to vaccines.
At the same time, an unnamed SAGE member told the Daily Mail that the government should not overdramatise the situation because “there are thousands of variants” of the coronavirus, which is “changing all the time”.
Tory peer Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, chairwoman of the Airport Operators’ Association, said she wonders “how many more variants” the government has “got to be worried about”, adding, “what matters is data and the success of our vaccination programme”.
She was echoed by Professor Sir John Bell from the University of Oxford, who said that ministers should stop “scampering down a rabbit hole” when new strains are detected, and instead focus on hospitalisations.
The remarks come as the government plans to update its “green list” of countries that British holidaymakers can visit without having to go into quarantine after returning to the UK.
The Daily Mail quoted unnamed Whitehall sources as saying that additions to the list will be “extremely limited” amid the Nepal strain-related concerns and the slower rollout of vaccinations across Europe.
Portugal, including Madeira and the Azores, as well as Israel, Iceland, Gibraltar, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Faroe Islands, and the Falkland Islands are all currently on the green list of countries.
On Wednesday, Tory lawmaker Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group of MPs, warned that “after a devastating year for our aviation, travel, and tourism industries”, the “limited” update of the green list “will come as a hammer blow to an industry that is close to breaking point” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Far from benefiting from a vaccine dividend, this reinforces that our overly cautious approach to international travel is a restart in name only. We must ensure that we avoid a summer shutdown that will cause irreversible damage to businesses and communities who rely on international travel”, Smith pointed out.
Hospitals in Nepal are, meanwhile, on the verge of collapse after COVID-19 cases soared to more than 9,000 a day in mid-May, something that has been sparked by the spread of the B.1.167 variant from neighbouring India.