Travel to UK from Denmark banned amid worries over Covid in mink.
Minks are seen at Hans Henrik Jeppesen’s farm near Soroe, Denmark, after the Danish government’s decision to cull his entire herd. Photograph: Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/Reuters
Travel to the UK from Denmark has been banned amid mounting concern over an outbreak in the country of a mutation of coronavirus linked to mink, the British government has announced.
Downing Street had already taken action to remove Denmark from the travel corridor, forcing arrivals to quarantine for two weeks from Friday at 4am.
But following a Covid committee meeting on Friday afternoon, the UK government is halting inbound travel from Denmark.
All non-British national or resident travellers who have been in or transited through Denmark in the past 14 days will be denied entry into the UK.
British nationals or residents returning from Denmark will be still be allowed entry into the UK. Freight and hauliers are also excluded from the ban.
The rule came into force as of 4am on Saturday.
Unveiling the move in a series of tweets at 2.18am on Saturday – less than two hours before the ban took effect – the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, wrote: “This decision to act quickly follows on from health authorities in Denmark reporting widespread outbreaks of coronavirus in mink farms. Keeping the UK public safe remains our top priority.”
The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, is understood to be particularly concerned by developments in Denmark. It follows the discovery of a new strain of the disease in mink bred for fur in Denmark’s northern regions which has spread to humans. It is feared the new strain could prove to be more resistant against a vaccine.
Anyone who has been in Denmark over the past fortnight will be asked to isolate, including their household. Meanwhile, NHS test and trace will prioritise contacting all those who have recently returned from Denmark.
A spokeswoman from the Department for Transport said: “Unlike other travel to the UK, there will be no exemptions to this quarantine policy.
“The UK government is working closely with international partners to understand the changes in the virus that have been reported in Denmark and we are conducting a programme of further research here in the UK to inform our risk assessments.”
The travel ban and extra requirements will be reviewed after a week, the department added.
Danish government experts have insisted they are acting with an “abundance of caution” in imposing restrictions in the northern Jutland region in response to the outbreak and ordering the cull of 17 million mink on its commercial farms.
Several variants of Covid-19 that have infected mink have been detected in more than 200 human cases in Denmark, but it has been the one cluster of 12 cases that has caused particular concern.
The country’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, had said the measures were being put in place since the mutation of the virus could potentially have an impact on the efficacy of vaccines in development, but the experts stressed on Friday there was as yet no hard evidence to suggest it would.
The World Health Organization also offered a circumspect assessment of the risk from the new mink variant. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said on Friday it was too early to jump to conclusions about the implications of mutations in the virus found in mink.
“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,” she said. “We don’t have any evidence at the moment that it would.”
Frederiksen’s comments that the strain “could pose a risk that future vaccines won’t work”, however, attracted international attention as she called for immediate action, adding that the “eyes of the world are on us”.
Dr Tyra Grove Krause of the Danish State Serum Institute told reporters on Friday that while researchers did not have “complete evidence”, they were determined to act on the information they had acquired quickly as a precaution while they continued their research.
Responding to whether recent statements and actions had generated “panic”, she added: “There is always a balance of risk. In this case you need to act in time instead [of] waiting [to] get all the evidence. You need to act in time and stop transmission.”
Frederiksen had told a news conference on Thursday: “From tonight, citizens in seven areas of north Jutland are strongly encouraged to stay in their area to prevent the spread of infection.. We are asking you in north Jutland to do something completely extraordinary. The eyes of the world are on us.”
After Frederiksen’s statement, the UK government announced that Denmark would be removed from its safe travel list. The UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced in an “urgent” 4am update that the country had lost its quarantine-free status.
The WHO said on Friday it was looking at bio security in other countries where mink were farmed, adding that it was important to prevent the animals and farms becoming reservoir for the disease.
Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, told a WHO news briefing in Geneva that the transmission of the virus between animals and humans was “a concern”, with a second expert saying the risk of such transmission was higher with mink than it was with other animals.
“Mutations [in viruses] are normal. These type of changes in the virus are something we have been tracking since the beginning. We are working with regional offices … where there are mink farms, and looking at bio security and to prevent spillover events,” Van Kerkhove said.
However, concern is centering on the fact that most mutations of the virus so far identified have been similar enough for vaccines in development to be hoped to work on them while this reportedly diverges more.
While the emergence of the mutation has sparked alarm, scientists were divided over the implications for a virus that has infected dozens of species of mammals so far.
• This article was amended on 7 November 2020 to replace the graph showing Covid-19 cases. An early version was inadvertently displaying figures only for the self-governing territory of the Faroe Islands, whose small number of cases form part of the total for Denmark now shown.
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