How worried should we be about a mutant strain of Coronavirus found in Denmark’s mink farms? The virus was found on its farms in June, and it emerged a few days ago that a dozen people had been infected with a strain of Covid called ‘Cluster 5’. So is this a new, more virulent strain?
Francois Balloux, a professor of genetics at University College London (UCL), has downplayed it as a story “making the rounds on Twitter.” We already know that humans can catch the coronavirus from minks, he says, as from a great many other animals. And there been thousands of mutations in the virus. “The fact that a few have been observed in minks will not change the strains that are in circulation in humans. If they were beneficial for the virus to infect its human host, they would be at high frequency already.” The Danish government is worried enough to cull all 17 million of its minks (as the Spanish did with 70,000 minks back in June). But reports in today’s Danish press say not a single new case has been found since September and that it is “overwhelmingly likely that the mutation that will lead to the killing of millions of mink and billion-dollar losses is already extinct.”
Yesterday, the UK government was taking all of this very seriously indeed – and at 2am issued a complete travel ban to anyone arriving from Denmark. “All non-British national or resident travellers who have been in or transited through Denmark in the last 14 days will be denied entry by Border Force upon arrival,” said Grant Shapps on Twitter. This is tricky to police, given how frequently people travel from Denmark to neighbouring countries – but it also suggests the UK government think there is more to the Danish mink story than currently known. As of this morning, Sweden is considering a mink cull but no travel ban. Germany’s Friedrich Loeffler Institute has said this has zero consequences because there are no mink farms. Neither does Britain – but so far, it is the only country to have closed its borders to anyone from Denmark. It’s unclear if we have different information about contagion of Cluster 5 from the Danish, or are just being more cautious. We’ll bring you more on the story as it develops.
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