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Minnesota health leaders discuss new strain of coronavirus

There are differing viewpoints on how much more transmissible the new strain is.

A new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly through parts of Europe has caught the attention of Minnesota's top health experts. 

The new strain, known as VUI-202012/01, has been confirmed in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, Australia and the Netherlands, with suspected cases in France and South Africa, according to Sky News

"We're hearing that the variant is intensifying transmissibility, so making the virus that more transmissible, which is certainly concerning," said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health, speaking with MPR News Monday morning

Ehresmann made it a point to say the original version of the 2020 coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has had a "fairly high level of transmissibility" in Minnesota, so while the new strain is concerning people shouldn't think that the current version isn't easily transmitted as is. 

"The good news is that it's not suggesting that it is causing more severe disease, but rather the disease that is being caused is more readily spread," said Ehresmann. "That would suggest that we shouldn't see a lack of ability for the current vaccine to address this virus." 

The concerning early information Ehresmann referenced is that European health experts have suggested that the new strain is up to 70% more infectious due to a bigger viral load, though that estimate has not yet been the subject of scientific peer review.

"I think scientifically to date there is no hard evidence that this virus is more transmissible," Moncef Slaoui, co-head of Operation Warp Speed, said Monday, via USA Today. “There is evidence that there is more of it in the population."

Andrew Hayward of the UK's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group told Sky News the new strain is "terrible news" for the pandemic.

"If the vaccine is the best news, this is the worst news we've had so far, and we really, really need to tighten down the hatches to stop the spread of this strain while vaccinating as many people as possible," Hayward said. 

While many countries have banned flights from parts of Europe where the new strain has been confirmed, the U.S. has yet to act with such extreme measures. 

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, told CNN Monday that he's in close contact with the CDC and following developments, but he advised to avoid overreacting to the situation and said banning flights from the UK to America isn't justified just yet, though White House coronavirus testing lead, Admiral Brett Giroir, didn't rule out halting incoming flights from the UK. 

"I think everything is possible. We just need to put everything on the table, have an open scientific discussion and make a best recommendation,” Giroir said, via The Independent

The new strain has not yet been confirmed anywhere in the U,.S. 

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