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More cases of new coronavirus variant found in Europe

A new variant of the coronavirus, which appears to be more transmissible, has been discovered in South Africa and is being blamed for a new surge in Covid-19 cases in the UK.

Spain has confirmed four cases of the more contagious coronavirus variant recently identified in the UK – the latest European country to do so.

The infections – all in Madrid – were linked to recent UK travel, the regional deputy health chief said.

France, Denmark and the Netherlands have also reported cases in the past few days.

The details given a week ago of the new variant in England triggered travel curbs with dozens of countries.

Scientists say the new variant is considerably more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily any more dangerous for those infected.

Madrid deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero said the confirmed cases involved three relatives of a man who flew from the UK on Thursday.

The fourth case concerned another man, who had also travelled from the UK.

Mr Zapatero said none of the patients were seriously ill and there was “no need for alarm”.

He said there were three further suspected cases of the new variant, though test results will not be ready before Tuesday or Wednesday.

News of the cases in Spain came just hours after France confirmed its first patient known to have the new variant.

The French health ministry said the person was a French citizen in the central town of Tours who had arrived from London on 19 December.

The ministry said the man, who had been living in the UK, was asymptomatic, and currently self-isolating at home.

France closed its border with the UK after the new variant was confirmed in Britain but ended its ban for EU citizens on Wednesday, providing people tested negative before travelling.

Thousands of lorry drivers spent Christmas Day in their cabs in Kent waiting to cross the English Channel.

Other countries have also reported cases of the new variant: on Friday, Japan confirmed five infections in passengers who had all arrived from the UK, while cases in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia were reported earlier.

Last week, France lifted its national lockdown, but the government said the infection rate had not fallen sufficiently for a further easing.

France has reported more than 2.5 million confirmed Covid infections since the start of the outbreak, with more than 62,000 deaths – the seventh highest total deaths in the world.

The country’s first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations meanwhile were delivered from Belgium to the health system’s central pharmacy just outside Paris on Saturday, AFP news agency reports.

The first shots are due to be administered to patients at two facilities for the elderly – in Sevran and Dijon – on Sunday.

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