New United Kingdom travel restrictions put in place as new variant of COVID-19 sets off panic

Experts says changes in virus' genetic code, variations of it are expected
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just as COVID-19 vaccinations have offered hope for a return to normalcy one day, a new variant of the virus has set off panic in Europe.

New travel restrictions have been put in place to and from the United Kingdom.

Infectious disease experts said changes in the virus' genetic code and variations of it are expected.

"Most of these variations mean nothing, they don't amount to anything, they've very insignificant, but every now and then it can change some of the properties to the virus, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse," explained Dr. Irfan Hafiz, a Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist.

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Scientific modeling, not data, has shown the new variant to be much more contagious.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it's already here in the United States, that's basically the nature of viruses, they mutate," said Dr. Richard Novak, the UIC Infectious Disease Director.

While there are claims of higher transmissibility, the good news is experts said it does not mean the new variant is more deadly or vaccine resistant.

"There doesn't appear to be any hard evidence but that needs to be studied a little bit further, if anyone plans to get vaccinated I would encourage you to, this does not change that at this moment," Hafiz said.

The Moderna vaccine is being shipped out this week, and scientists remain hopeful vaccines will be effective in curtailing the pandemic.

But, scientists said a new variant does mean the coronavirus is not going to disappear and could be around in some capacity for a long time.

"This is a wake up call that absolutely, we need to be vigilant and not let our guard down, we have to keep monitoring all the virus changes and respond to it," he said.

Infectious disease experts stressed that it is important to monitor any breakthrough infections with people who have been vaccinated.
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