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New COVID-19 variant spreads in France, Spain and Sweden

By Sommer Brokaw & Jean Lotus
New COVID-19 variant spreads in France, Spain and Sweden
Travelers wear face masks as they stand in line at the Adolfo-Suarez Barajas International Airport in Madrid, Spain. File Photo by Emilio Naranjo/EPA-EFE

Dec. 26 (UPI) -- A new strain of the coronavirus has spread to France, Spain and Sweden since it was first detected in Britain earlier this month, health officials said.

Four people in Madrid were diagnosed with the COVID-19 variant, the health advisor for the region, Antonio Zapatero, said during a press conference Saturday.

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One person was diagnosed Thursday after arriving from Britain and three others are members of the person's family, according to Zapatero.

"The situation of the confirmed patients is [not serious]," Zapatero said. "We know this variant is more transmissible, but it does not cause a more severe reaction."

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Zapatero added that there also three other suspected cases pending test results expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Spain has reported over 1.8 million cases and 49,824 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University global tracker of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

On Friday, health officials said the first case of the new COVID-19 variant first identified in Britain was detected in France.

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The French Health Ministry said in a statement the person infected is a French citizen living in England, who came back to France for city of Tours last weekend and was admitted to the hospital Monday.

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"The person is asymptomatic for COVID-19, is currently isolated at home and is doing well," the statement said. "The health authorities have carried out contact tracing of the health professionals who took care of the patient and have sought out his at-risk contacts, in order to place them in strict quarantine."

France has reported more than 2.6 million COVID-19 cases and 62,548 deaths, according to the global tracker.

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French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Christmas Eve he was symptom-free after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

In Sweden, the country's public health agency reported a case of the virus's new variant Saturday in the region of Sörmland, on the outskirts of Stockholm. The patient was a visitor from the United Kingdom, identified via contact tracing, and was not needing hospitalization, the agency said.

As of Monday, all air travelers to the United States and Britain will have to test negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before the flight, federal regulators ordered amid Britain's struggle with new strain.

"Viruses change through mutation, and preliminary analysis in [Britain] suggests that this new variant may be up to 70% more transmissible than previously circulating variants," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which ordered the rule change, said about the new COVID-19 variant in a statement Thursday.

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Britain has reported over 2.2 million coronavirus cases and 70,302 deaths, Johns Hopkins data shows.

Meanwhile, South Korea has coped with a surge in cases during Christmas week, including 1,241 on Christmas Day alone, the largest daily increase it has seen since the pandemic began.

In South Korea, flights have been suspended from Britain until December 31 due to the new coronavirus strain.

To date, the global tracker shows South Korea has reported 55,902 COVID-19 cases and 793 deaths.

The government said in a statement Saturday South Korea will require additional COVID-19 tests for travelers from South Africa before they can be released from 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival.

If a traveler from South Africa tests positive, the government will conduct additional testing for the new strain, the Disease Control and Prevention Agency added in a statement.

The new COVID-19 strain identified in South Africa has been compared to the new variant in Britain.

"Putting our data together with that in [Britain], this [South African] variant is a bit more effective at spreading from person to person and that is not good," Dr. Richard Lessells, one of the specialists leading research into the new variant in South Africa, told The Guardian.

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The new variant in South Africa was found in 200 samples collected from 50 health facilities and originally detected in coastal regions, but has now spread inland, according to The Guardian.

South Africa has reported 983,359 COVID-19 cases and 26,276 deaths, according to the global tracker.

Turkey will begin to require a negative COVID-19 test from air passengers entering the country within 72 hours of boarding starting on Monday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in a statement. By Wednesday, travelers entering by sea and land will also be required to present a negative test.

The new rules will be in effect until March 1, according to the statement.

Along with the COVID-19 test, people who have been in Britain, Denmark, and South Korea in the previous 10 days will be required to undergo a mandatory home quarantine, the statement said. They will get a COVID-19 test on day seven of their quarantine to see if they could exit quarantine.

Koca added in a tweet that Turkey has sealed a deal to obtain Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which includes 550,000 doses to be delivered by early January and 4.5 million doses by the end of March.

Turkey has reported over 2.1 million COVID-19 cases and 19,371 deaths, the global tracker shows.

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Norway has extended the ban it imposed on direct flights from Britain on Monday to next Tuesday amid concerns about new coronavirus strain in Britain, according to a Ministry of Health statement.

The health ministry also imposed additional COVID-19 testing and tracing measures for travelers from Britain to be in effect until Jan. 10.

Norway has reported 46,248 COVID-19 cases and 421 deaths to date, according to the global tracker.

Japan reported 3,823 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, which set a new daily record for the third straight day, the country's Ministry of Health said Saturday.

Tokyo alone reported its second-highest number of daily infections so far with 884 cases.

Japan also reported 50 new COVID-19 deaths Friday, bringing the country's total coronavirus cases to 218,452 and total deaths to 3,052, the global tracker showed on Saturday.

The United States has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths worldwide at over 18.7 million cases and over 330,000 deaths, according to the global tracker. India has the second highest number of cases at over 10.1 million and third highest number of deaths at over 147,000. Brazil has the third highest number of cases and second highest number of deaths at over 7.4 million cases and over 190,000 deaths. Worldwide, COVID-19 has infected over 79.9 million people and killed over 1.7 million.

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