Experts fear the new strain of the deadly virus is resistant to a vaccine. Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, has told doctors, nurses and GPs across the UK to take “immediate action”.
Every hospital in the country has been ordered to isolate suspected “mink virus” patients.
The new strain was first identified in Denmark and has raised concerns about vaccine development because it is less sensitive to protective antibodies.
In a letter circulated to health chiefs, co-signed by the NHS medical director, Professor Steve Powis, hospitals have been told that any coronavirus patients who recently traveled to Denmark must be isolated and treated in specialist centres.
The patients must then be gene tested to identify whether they have the new strain.
The new measures mirror the ones imposed in hospitals at the beginning of the year, when COVID-19 was first spreading to the UK from China and mainland Europe.
Mink-related mutations of coronavirus have been detected in over 200 people in Denmark so far.
Danish authorities reacted quickly to the news and put parts of the country under new lockdown measures, where the cases were most prevalent.
The news has also triggered culls of all mink in the country, thought to be about 17million.
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She said: “We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is discussing the outbreak with the Danish authorities.
They have called on all countries to step up surveillance and tighten biosecurity measures around mink farms.
But WHO officials said it is too early to tell if the new mink virus will impede vaccine development.
Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said: “We need to wait and see what the implications are but I don’t think we should come to any conclusions about whether this particular mutation is going to impact vaccine efficacy.”
Denmark is the world’s biggest producer of mink fur and its main export markets are China and Hong Kong.
The UK has imposed a travel ban on non-UK citizens coming from Denmark.
British citizens are allowed to return from Denmark, but must isolate along will all members of their household for 14 days.