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New COVID-19 Variant More Infectious Than Other Strains, British Scientists Say  

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar International Departures hall at St Pancras International station in London on Dec. 23, 2020, as services prepare to resume following a 48 hour closure of the French border.

Researchers in Britain say the new strain of COVID-19 is more infectious than other variants, and could be more transmissible in children.

Scientists with the country’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) told reporters earlier this week the new variant is about 71% more transmissible than other versions.

The new variant of the novel coronavirus has swept through southern Britain in recent weeks, prompting more than 40 countries to ban travelers from Britain. Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea added themselves to the long list Tuesday: Singapore imposed an indefinite ban on all passengers from Britain into the city-state effective midnight local time Wednesday, the Philippines is suspending all flights to Britain effective Thursday, Christmas Eve, and South Korea has suspended flights from Britain until next Thursday, New Year’s Eve.

But France has reversed course and lifted a 48-hour ban imposed Monday on all travel from Britain, allowing all passengers and truck drivers to enter the country as long as they have tested negative for the coronavirus within the previous 72 hours. The ban left thousands of freight trucks carrying tons of perishable food and other goods stranded in Dover and other vital crossing points at the iconic English Channel that separates Britain and France.

Elsewhere in the world, Peru has become the latest country to surpass 1 million total confirmed coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry announced Tuesday that 1,000,153 people have been infected, including 37,218 deaths. Peru is the fifth nation in Latin America to top the 1 million mark, joining Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.

Birx retiring

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, says she plans to retire from government service after helping with the transition to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden. In an interview Tuesday with the media outlet Newsy, Birx said her tenure on the task force “has been a bit overwhelming” and has been difficult on her family.

Birx had previously stated her wish to remain with the Biden administration after it takes over in January. But she came under scrutiny earlier this week after The Associated Press reported that she had traveled to her property in Delaware during the Thanksgiving weekend and visited with several members of her family, despite advice issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against traveling during that holiday period because of the escalating numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country. Birx said she had gone to the home to prepare it for the winter season, but acknowledged she shared a meal with her family during the visit.

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