United Kingdom: New Covid strain cancels Christmas

United Kingdom: New Covid strain cancels Christmas

 Boris Johnson “won’t be forgiven” for ruining Christmas, said Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail (U.K.). Declaring that a new, more contagious strain of the corona virus was running amok in southeast England, the prime minister last week abruptly backtracked on his promise of eased restrictions around the holiday, and instead imposed a full lockdown on London and surrounding areas. 

For the rest of the country, a plan to let up to three households get together for a five-day period was scrapped, and families can now mingle only on Dec. 25. Normally, we could understand policies changing because of an emergency. But what is infuriating is that just days before his climbdown—and after he already knew about the new strain— Johnson was insisting that it would be “frankly inhuman” to ban Christmas. “Wishing to please and be the bearer of happy news,” he gave the go-ahead, spurring millions of Britons to buy train tickets and enormous turkeys and make festive plans with Grandma. Then he caved to the scientists and yanked his gift away. 

This is exactly how he has managed Brexit; indeed, it’s how he manages everything, “repeatedly chopping and changing, and withdrawing undertakings almost as soon as they are made.” Eager to keep out the new strain, Europe swiftly pulled up the drawbridge, said Isabelle Mandraud and Virginie Malingre in Le Monde (France). Countries including Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Poland barred passenger flights from the U.K. France temporarily shut its border with Britain, causing miles-long tailbacks of freight trucks at ferry ports and raising fears that food and drugs could run short over the holidays. The European Union is now discussing whether to mandate nasal swab tests for everyone entering the Continent from Britain—tourist or trucker. But it may be too late. “A handful of cases” of the new strain have been found in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Italy. Just how scary is this variant? asked James Gallagher in BBC.com. 

While it isn’t deadlier, it does seem to spread faster. First spotted in September, the strain has an alarming 17 mutations, including eight on the spike protein, the part targeted by most vaccines. In November, the new variant made up a quarter of new cases in London; by mid- December, nearly twothirds. So far, there’s no indication the strain is resistant to current vaccines. “But if we let it add more mutations,” said microbiologist Ravi Gupta, “then you start worrying.” Thanks to Johnson, the mutant virus is now all over the U.K., said Clare Foges in The Times (U.K.). 

His shock announcement of impending lockdown led thousands of people to crowd onto the last trains in and out of London. Those “superspreader expresses” will surely push up transmission rates in other parts of the country. And all of it was so unnecessary. Johnson has for months mocked Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, for urging tighter restrictions. The prime minister painted Starmer “as an unpatriotic Eeyore who lacks the requisite Blitz spirit and belief in Britain to face down the virus,” only to belatedly copy Starmer’s commonsense proposals. Johnson isn’t malicious. He’s “just desperate to be liked—a trait which is desperately incompatible with leading a country through such a time.”