Six countries have reported a new coronavirus mutation linked to mink farms that is transmissible to humans, according to the World Health Organisation.
Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the US have discovered Sars-CoV-2 in minks, the UN agency said. The animals are kept in large numbers of farms and they have been found to infect workers, sparking fears that it might override the effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Although authorities have been aware of the mutation for a while, it has raised alarm since it has only just been confirmed that the new strain can jump to humans.
Danish authorities have imposed strict measures on the north of the country after the mink strain infected 12 people. There are fears that hundreds could be infected with the new strain.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the situation was “very, very serious” and such mutations could pose a risk to a vaccine’s efficacy. Mutations in some mink-linked strains have involved the spike protein of the virus, which is being targeted by some of the vaccines in development.
"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," Ms Frederiksen said.
In addition to the lockdown, culling of all 17 million mink in the Scandinavian country began last month by the army and police.
Denmark is the world’s biggest exporter of mink fur, with its main markets being China and Hong Kong.
Outside of Denmark, it has been reported that hundreds have been infected with the new strain of virus linked to the animal.
The British government has ordered all people arriving from Denmark to quarantine immediately for 14 days.
On Twitter, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote: "This decision to act quickly follows on from health authorities in Denmark reporting widespread outbreaks of coronavirus in mink farms. Keeping the UK public safe remains our top priority."
Scottish airline Loganair has suspended flights between Scotland and Denmark from November 9 to 22 due to the restrictions.
But the WHO said that people should not jump to conclusions just yet.
"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," said chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan.
Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, has been mutating roughly every two weeks but these mutations have not been shown to have a significant effect on how the virus infects humans.
Effective nasal spray
Meanwhile, scientists found that a nasal spray that blocks coronavirus particles from being absorbed into cells has been found to completely protect ferrets, raising hopes that one day it’ll be able to protect humans too.
A scientific trial, yet to be peer reviewed and published, found the lipopeptide, a cholesterol particle in the spray linked to a chain of amino acids, could disrupt the functioning of the spike protein which allows Covid-19 to infect the respiratory system.
Scientists from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York, Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Cornell University and the University of Campania in Italy have been conducting the study, The New York Times reported on Friday.
As well as minks and ferrets, studies show that other animals, including hamsters and some monkeys, can get sick from the virus. Covid-19 is thought to have originated from Chinese horseshoe bats.