Dominic Raab today warned a ‘mutated version of coronavirus’ linked to Danish mink farms could undermine efforts to produce an effective vaccine as the UK moved swiftly to ban hauliers arriving from Denmark.
Foreign lorry drivers who have recently travelled through the country will be turned back at the UK border after widespread Covid-19 outbreaks at the farms.
As of 4am this morning, only UK citizens have been allowed to return from Denmark, with any other visitors, or freight arrivals, being refused entry. Brits arriving from the country are now required to self-isolate for two weeks.
The Danish Government has ordered a cull of 17 million mink after a warning that a mutation of the virus – which is less sensitive to an attack from Covid-19 antibodies – had jumped from minks to humans and infected 12 people.
Coronavirus has spread from minks to humans in hundreds of cases – but the mutant strain is restricted to just 12 infections. Scientists fear this small number could be the beginning of ‘a new pandemic starting again, this time from Denmark’.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said it could pose a ‘risk to the effectiveness’ of a much-anticipated future Covid-19 vaccine as the antibodies provided by the jab may not be effective enough.
Mr Raab told Sky News the decision to impose travel restrictions on the country was a ‘precautionary measure’.
He said: ‘We need to look very carefully at the science, I think the Danish government have been very forward learning and transparent and cooperative about this.
‘But what the concern is, when we see a mutated version of coronavirus and if it spreads, it will undermine our ability to make an effective vaccine in the future because it will allow the virus to move round.
‘So although it is a precautionary step, I think it is the right step whilst we engage with all of the health experts around the world and be clear about what’s happened in Denmark, in particular in relation to the minks.’
Danish authorities have ordered the culling of 17million mink after they were linked to a mutation of Covid-19 which poses a ‘risk to the effectiveness’ of a long-awaited vaccine
Six countries have now reported coronavirus cases linked to mink farms after a Covid mutation spreading from the animals to humans was found in Denmark
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a decision to restrict travel to and from Denmark was a ‘precautionary measure’
Anyone who is allowed to enter Britain and has travelled to Denmark must isolate for 14 days, along with members of their household.
Home Secretary Priti Patel explained yesterday: ‘In order to respond quickly and decisively to the latest coronavirus developments, visitors from Denmark arriving into the UK will not be permitted entry.
‘British Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents who have travelled to Denmark in the last 14 days will need to self-isolate along with their household.’
Speaking earlier today, MR Raab said the travel ban imposed on people returning from Denmark is a ‘common-sense measure’.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘I wouldn’t describe it as draconian taking a precautionary measure to make sure that if and when we come up with a vaccine it can’t be sidestepped by a mutation in the virus which the Danes have found through their mink population.
‘I think that is a common sense measure the public would expect us to take. I spoke to my Danish opposite number on Friday about it.
The Department for Transport has confirmed lorries that have recently passed through Denmark will be turned away from British ports such as Dover, pictured above
Explaining the decision to turn hauliers back, the Department for Transport said: ‘The move follows the release of further information from health authorities in Denmark reporting widespread outbreaks of coronavirus (Covid-19) in mink farms, with a variant strain of the virus spreading to some local communities.’
The travel ban and extra requirements will be reviewed after a week, the department added.
Denmark is the world’s largest mink fur exporter and produces an estimated 17 million furs per year.
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE MUTATED MINK CORONAVIRUS? AND SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?
Danish authorities are concerned about the impact the new strain could have on humans and whether it will damage the effectiveness of a vaccine.
They claimed today the strain – called Cluster 5 – does not cause a more severe illness in humans and is not more infectious.
Scientists at the Danish State Serum Institute say the mutated coronavirus appears to be less sensitive to an attack from Covid-19 antibodies – weakening the body’s immune response against it.
The antibodies are designed to bind to a spike protein on the virus, which it uses to invade cells, to make it inoperable and stop the virus from causing an infection.
But in the mink strain some of the spike proteins are a different shape, meaning the antibodies are less able to bind to it and stop an infection.
If this strain becomes widespread and is shown to be effective at infecting humans, it could threaten the effectiveness of any future vaccine against Covid-19.
Authorities have no proof the strain is any more contagious or deadly, insisting there is ‘no reason to worry’ and mutations happen all the time and are usually harmless.
In a shock sign of how feared this mutant Covid strain is, all cabin crew and pilots onboard British Airways and Ryanair flights arriving from Denmark in the UK have been instructed quarantine for 14 days after landing – along with their families.
Previously, airline workers were exempt from any mandatory quarantine. The new restrictions mean staff members’ children must stay home from school for two weeks as well.
Denmark first learned a strain of coronavirus had crossed over from mink in June after an outbreak at a care home.
Five different strains of mutant mink coronavirus have been discovered in 214 people in Denmark since then.
But only one of these strains – known as Cluster 5 – is less sensitive to antibodies, Denmark’s State Serum Institute revealed.
Denmark’s top epidemiologist told the Financial Times: ‘The worst-case scenario is a new pandemic starting again, this time from Denmark.’
Aarhus University professor and veterinary ecotoxicology expert Christian Sonne said the family of carnivorous mammals mutelids – which includes minks and ferrets – were ‘ticking bombs’. They seem to be more at risk of coronavirus than other creatures.
Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said that transmission of the virus between animals and humans was ‘a concern’, but added: ‘Mutations (in viruses) are normal.
‘These type of changes in the virus are something we have been tracking since the beginning.’
Soumya Swaminathan – the WHO’s chief scientist – said on Friday that it is too early to jump to conclusions.
She said: ‘We need to wait and see what the implications are but I don’t think we should come to any conclusions about whether this particular mutation is going to impact vaccine efficacy. We don’t have any evidence at the moment that it would.’