France and Lebanon confirm first cases of new variant of coronavirus

Health authorities in France and Lebanon have confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus variant which has resulted in global travel restrictions and strict lockdowns in the UK.

The French Ministry of Health said a Frenchman who arrived in France from the British capital London on December 19 tested positive for the new variant on Friday.

He had no symptoms and was isolated at his home in the central city of Tours.

Authorities have conducted contact tracing for healthcare professionals caring for the patient, the ministry said. All their contacts considered vulnerable would also be isolated, he said.

In addition to this first case, several other positive samples which “could suggest the VOC 202012/01 variant are being sequenced” by the specialized laboratories of the National Pasteur Institute, the statement added.

In Lebanon, the country’s acting health minister said on Friday that a case of the new variant had been detected on a flight from London.

Middle East Airlines Flight 202 arrived on December 21, Hamad Hassan said, urging all passengers on the flight and their families to take precautionary measures.

Italian authorities have detected the new strain in a patient in Rome, while Japan reported five cases in passengers arriving from the UK. Singapore confirmed one case of the new variant, while the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that nine cases were detected in Denmark and one each in the Netherlands and Australia.

More than 50 countries have banned travel from the UK after the UK Prime Minister imposed a strict lockdown on London and warned the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible. The United States on Thursday said it would require all passengers arriving from the UK to test negative for COVID-19 for entry, while China has suspended all flights from Britain due to the new strain.

Other countries that have suspended British travel are France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, India, Pakistan, Poland , Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia and Jordan.

In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have completely closed their borders.

French authorities, following a 48-hour travel ban this week, have reopened its borders with the UK – in part to allow French citizens to return home, as well as to relieve the massive build-up of freight goods – but had instituted a political test.

France’s Home Office said Thursday that limits on travel from the UK would continue “until at least January 6”.

For now, only French or EU citizens, those with a right to stay or business travelers are allowed to cross from the UK – if they can show a negative COVID-19 test of less than three days.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on December 14 that a spike in UK COVID cases could have been linked to the new variant of the virus and more than 1,000 cases of the new variant have been identified , mainly in the south-east of England.

Before Christmas, the Minister of Health had announced the extension of strict lockdown measures in other parts of southern England to contain the spread of the disease.

With more than 68,000 deaths from the virus, the UK is one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe.

Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to the United Kingdom and South Africa following the identification of cases of the new, rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus in those countries.

France, meanwhile, has recorded 20,262 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 159 more deaths in hospitals in the past 24 hours.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in France now stands at 2,547,771, while the number of COVID-19 deaths has reached 62,427 – the seventh highest in the world.

Lebanon, with an estimated population of 6 million people, has reported more than 165,000 cases and 1,000 deaths from COVID-19.

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