Danish authorities discovered the new strain on mink farms, with at least 12 humans infected by the strain after handling the animals. More than a quarter-million Danes went into lockdown in Northern Denmark starting Friday in an effort to contain the potential spread of the mutation.
“Instead of waiting for evidence, it is better to act quickly,” said Tyra Grove Krause, head of department at Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark.
Viral mutations are common: the annual flu season occurs due to continual mutations of the original 1918 influenza pandemic disease.
The World Health Organization has advised that the effects and characteristics of the coronavirus mutation are unknown, but scientists worry that any mutation will mitigate the effectiveness of any potential vaccines – such as the newly announced Pfizer vaccine that is reportedly 90% effective in large-scale trials.
A Dutch veterinary expert claims that the mutation is not a new one, however, and is indeed one that was seen at mink farms in the Netherlands earlier in the year.
“We have once seen a mutant virus with a comparable mutation in the spike protein-encoding region, in mink in the Netherlands, but this mutant did not spread to humans and the mink of the involved farm were culled,” professor Wim van der Poel of Wageningen University told the BBC.
The Danish government does plan to cull as many as 17 million mink to avoid a more severe situation, but other nations in Europe have already started taking greater measures.
The United Kingdom has issued new travel restrictions on Denmark: British residents and nationals will have to self-isolate with their household, but all other travelers, regardless of origin, will not be allowed into the country.
The English Premier League has advised teams to not allow Danish players to return to their home nation for international games due to the new travel restrictions, CBS Sports reported.
Israel plans to enforce testing for any people arriving from Denmark after reports that three Israelis returning from the nation were suspected of infection with the new strain.
“The likelihood of a patient carrying the mutation arriving in Israel is low … At the same time we are exercising extra caution,” the Israeli health ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“The Ministry of Health, together with the Home Front Command, has issued a list of passengers who have returned from Denmark and has been in contact with them since this morning to perform a special sampling for the corona and test the mutation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.