The Department for Health and Social Care estimates that between 300 and 500 people have arrived in the UK from Denmark in the last 14 days.
Denmark was the first to record the new mutation, described as the “cluster five variant” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and has reported 214 human cases of Covid linked to mink farms, of which 12 are thought to be “cluster five”. Four were found in the local community rather than on farms, suggesting human-to-human transmission.
New coronavirus cases linked to mink farms have been discovered in six countries including Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, the WHO has said. Mink farming in Britain ended in the early 2000s, although there are thought to be around 112,00 of the animals in the wild.
Professor Fiona Mathews, the chair of the Mammal Society and Professor of Environmental Biology, University of Sussex, urged the Government to fund a study into whether the virus might already be spreading in the UK’s mink population.
“There’s a chance it might have jumped to cousins of the mink, like otters,” she said. “We know the virus came from animals, so it would be foolish not to look at whether it is already here. And of course there’s a small chance that it might pose a risk to humans.”
Danish authorities have revealed that the mutated coronavirus has not been found in humans since September.
“Either it is in circulation without us having discovered it… or otherwise it may have died out,” said Tyra Grove Krause, the head of department at the Statens Serum Institut.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, denied that the Denmark travel ban and restrictions on trade were “draconian”.
“I wouldn’t describe it as draconian taking a precautionary measure that if and when we come up with a vaccine it can’t be sidestepped by a mutation in the virus that the Danes have found through their mink population,” he told the BBC. “I think that’s a common sense measure that the public would expect us to take.”
A further 156 people have died after testing positive for Covid in the UK, the Government said on Sunday. It brings the UK death toll to 49,044, while a further 20,572 positive cases of coronavirus have been recorded.