A New Covid-19 Strain Is Shutting Down Europe. What You Need to Know.

By Jack Denton

The presence of a more infectious strain of the virus that causes Covid-19 is shutting down Europe, causing a wave of lockdowns and travel restrictions, prompting a logistics crisis in the U.K., and hammering stock markets across the continent.

The U.K. government said on Saturday that a coronavirus strain that is 70% more infectious is spreading in the U.K., which reported its highest-ever daily rise in infections on Sunday with 35,928 cases.

Experts believe that this mutated version of coronavirus, first detected in September, isn’t more deadly than the typical variety that causes Covid-19, and say there is no proof that it should impact the efficacy of vaccines.

The variant found in the U.K., which is quickly replacing other versions of the virus, is believed to be linked to cases discovered in Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the threat of the more infectious version of the virus on Saturday, when he canceled plans to ease social restrictions over the Christmas period.

The move meant around 18 million people in southeast England were plunged into a new lockdown, and thousands fled London in the hours before the restrictions took effect.

Matt Hancock, the U.K. health secretary, told the media on Sunday that everyone living in the new “tier 4” areas of England—under lockdown—need to behave as if they have the virus.

European countries followed suit in cracking down on the spread of the mutant virus, with new bans on entry from the U.K. now in place, and the European Union set to announce a coordinated response on Monday after a meeting of its crisis-response committee.

More than 30 countries—including India, Germany, Canada, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia—and the special administrative region of Hong Kong have now banned all arrivals from the U.K.

After France closed its border for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday, the U.K. faces a logistics crisis in the busy run-up to Christmas, with the key trade route between the country and continental Europe cut off.

France halted all travel from the U.K., including inbound trade between the key ports of Calais and Dover and through the Eurotunnel. The Strait of Dover between England and France is one of the busiest maritime routes in the world, with up to 10,000 trucks shuttled across this passage of the English Channel each day.

Shortages of critical goods imported from Europe, like food and medicine, could happen if French drivers stop traveling to the U.K. because they are unable to return.

There are now thousands of trucks on each side of the English Channel, as Paris is calling for a strict new testing regime before opening the blockade on Wednesday morning.

A statement shared on Twitter by the French embassy in the U.K., attributed to the French minister of transport, said that “in the next few hours, at European level, we’re going to establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the U.K. can resume.”

Sainsbury’ s, the third-largest grocery store in the U.K., warned that there could be “gaps” on supermarket shelves if the blockade goes on longer than 48 hours.

“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit—all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year,” the company said.

Stock markets across Europe have been hammered with pessimism over this latest Covid-10 development, with the pan-European Stoxx 600 and London’s FTSE 100 both down near 3%. France’s CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX are both down more than 3%.

Dow futures were pointing down near 500 points for a poor open, after closing at 30,179 on Friday.

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