Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press briefing Dec. 18. Courtesy photo: Governor's office

Following reports of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 virus spreading in the United Kingdom, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on the federal government to take action to prevent or slow the new variant’s spread in the United States.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced strict new lockdowns to control the spread of the virus in parts of the country, including London, where infections on surging. Johnson said the new variant seems to be significantly more contagious —up to 70% more transmissible, he said — than the more dominant type that has infected millions worldwide. A U.K. public health official said Saturday new variant is responsible for 60% of infections in London, where infections nearly doubled in the past week.

In response to these announcements, some countries have banned all travelers from the U.K. and, according to Cuomo, 120 countries require travelers from the U.K. to have tested negative for the virus before crossing their borders.

The United States has not yet imposed restrictions on travel from the U.K.

“Right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to JFK. Right now, today,” Cuomo said during a press briefing yesterday. He said there are six flights a day coming from the U.K.

Cuomo said “this is what happened in the spring,” when the virus came to New York with travelers from Europe. The federal government, which banned travel from China Feb. 1, did not act quickly enough to restrict European travel in the spring and New York, Cuomo said.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai published a study in April showing that the pandemic outbreak in New York City occurred through untracked transmission from Europe and other states rather than from China, where the virus originated, or other parts of Asia. Those findings were confirmed by other researchers as well as by a report published in July by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cuomo has said New York was “ambushed” by the virus coming from Europe when the federal government, particularly the President, publicly focused on China.

“This is the mistake we made. Where is HHS? Where is the CDC? Where is the NIH? This is the same mistake and literally six flights a day, and all it takes is one person,” Cuomo said yesterday.

Cuomo urged “at a minimum” the federal government should require a test but should also “consider a ban.” Doing nothing, he said, is “grossly negligent.”

New York is already in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, with infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths escalating over the past month. The state’s infection rate has nearly doubled, the number of hospitalizations reported daily have more than doubled and the number of deaths reported daily has more than tripled over the past 30 days.

Scientists say much remains unknown about the new variant, including the extent of its increased transmissibility and whether it causes more serious illness than the dominant strain of the virus worldwide, which researchers have concluded was an earlier mutation that appeared in Europe in February.

It is highly unlikely that the spread of the new variant will affect the effectiveness of the vaccines now being administered, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge and University of Glasgow, as reported by the BBC.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.