(CNSNews.com) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday criticized the federal government for not restricting flights from Britain, amid concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious – although not necessarily more dangerous -- than the previously known form.
Cuomo said the government should follow the example of more than 30 countries that have barred flights from Britain.
“Why don’t we act intelligently for a change?” asked Cuomo. “Why don’t we mandate testing before people get on a flight, or halt the flights from the U.K. now? Many other countries have done this.”
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a travel ban from the U.K. would be “draconian,” premature, and unnecessary.
Fauci told PBS NewsHour that he agreed “we should seriously consider the possibility of requiring testing of people before they come from the U.K. here.”
“But I don’t think that there’s enough evidence right now to essentially lock down any travel from the U.K.”
Three airlines flying from Britain to New York State have reportedly now agreed to require passengers to have a negative coronavirus test before boarding, with British Airways instituting the change with effect from Tuesday and Delta and Virgin Atlantic from Thursday. Earlier, Cuomo had said – without elaborating – that if the airlines did not comply, “New York State will pursue other options.”
Fauci said the new strain identified by the British should be taken seriously, but he tempered his language when speaking about its potential, and noted that some of the claims about it remain unproven.
“These types of viruses tend to mutate a lot,” he explained. “Most of the mutations have no functional relevance. This one has a suggestion that it might allow the virus to spread more readily. We’re still seeking out evidence to prove or disprove that.”
“But let’s make an assumption that it is in fact making the virus more transmissible – even though it hasn’t been proven yet – it doesn’t seem at all to have any impact on the virulence, or what we call the deadliness of the virus. It doesn’t make people more sick, and it doesn’t seem to have any impact on the protective nature of the vaccines that we’re currently using.”
Fauci also said it should be assumed the new strain was already in the United States.
“When you see something that is pretty prevalent in a place like the U.K., there are also mutations that we are seeing in South Africa, and given the travel throughout the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already here,” he said. “We’re going to be looking for it right now, and I’m sure sooner or later we’re going to run into it and find it.”
Announcing tough new Christmas restrictions over gatherings and movement in southern and eastern England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the weekend that the new mutation was believed to be responsible for 62 per cent of all COVID-19 infections in London in the week beginning December 9.
“Although there’s considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant,” he said, attributing the information to analysis by the government’s “New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group.”
Johnson conceded that it was “early data” that was “subject to review.”
“But it’s best that we have at the moment, and we have to act on information as we have it, because this is now spreading very fast.”
In his statement on Monday, Cuomo mistakenly said Johnson had said the new mutation was “70 times more” transmissible than the virus in its original state.
“If this is more transmittable than COVID – 70 times more, says Boris Johnson – this is a major problem,” he said. In a later MSNBC appearance, Cuomo repeated the error, saying that Johnson “said it transmits 70 times as fast as the normal COVID virus.”
(“70 percent more” means multiplying an original number by 0.7 and then adding the two; “70 times more” means multiplying the original number by 70, producing a significantly larger number.)
World Health Organization emergencies program director Michael Ryan on Monday reiterated that while the new strain appears at this point to be more transmissible, it has not been determined to be more dangerous, or to compromise the effectiveness of vaccines.
“There’s zero evidence at this point that there’s any increase in severity associated with this disease,” he told a briefing in Geneva. “Clearly work is ongoing to look at transmission and the increased rates of transmission, and how much of that is attributable to this particular variant.”
“At this stage,” said Ryan, “we don’t have evidence that this virus will change the severity, the diagnostics, or the value of vaccines going forward.”