1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

New COVID variant reaches France, Spain and Sweden

December 26, 2020

French, Spanish and Swedish health authorities have identified the first known cases of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant. Hungary has given its first vaccinations a day before the EU rollout. DW has the latest.

French police officers on horseback next to the Eiffel Tower
Health authorities have confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus variant in FranceImage: Robin Utrecht/picture alliance

France, Spain and Sweden have confirmed their first cases of a new coronavirus variantthat was recently identified in the United Kingdom.

An infected man arrived in France from London on December 19. He is asymptomatic and isolating at home in the central city of Tours. In addition to this case, French laboratories are analyzing tests from several other people who may have the new variant.

Earlier this week, France imposed a blockade on people entering from the UK in a bid to limit the spread. Although officials lifted the snap measure after two days, the move stranded thousands of truck drivers in Dover.

Virus spreads in Europe

Spain, meanwhile, has also registered its first cases of the variant. Madrid's regional government said four cases had been detected involving people who had recently arrived from the UK or had close contact with someone who had.

Sweden's Health Agency has said a traveler from Britain tested positive for the new variant in recent days. Health official Sara Byfors told a news conference that the traveler had gone into isolation upon arrival and that no further positive cases had been detected so far.

Sweden imposed travel restrictions earlier this month on passengers from Britain amid concerns over the variant.

In addition to France, Spain and Sweden, cases of the variant have also been reported in Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.

Experts believe the mutated version of the virus is around 70% more contagious, prompting more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK.

Elsewhere in Europe

Hungary has given its first vaccine shots a day before the EU's vaccination rollout. Hungarian doctors and health care workers began getting vaccinated Saturday with one of the bloc's first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19. It was not immediately clear why Hungary began administrating doses a day early.

Authorities in Slovakia have also announced that they plan to begin vaccinations on Saturday evening.

Austria entered its third coronavirus lockdown on Saturday. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he expected a third wave of infections across Europe in early 2021, before testing and vaccinations would bring relief.

As in several other European Union countries, Austria's BioNtech-Pfizer vaccination campaign is to begin on Sunday, initially for residents of nursing homes over the age of 80.

"I expect that we can return to normality in many areas in the summer," Kurz said.

In Germany, the country's Association of Cities has told people to lower expectations for the coronavirus vaccine in the short term. "It's a start, but the specter of the dangerous coronavirus isn't gone just yet," the association's president, Burkhard Jung, told the Funke Media Group. He added that mass inoculation was not yet feasible because there was "too little vaccine" at present. The first doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer vaccine were being distributed Saturday ahead of Sunday's rollout.

Also on Saturday, Germany recorded another 14,455 coronavirus cases, with the death toll rising by 240 to 29,422.

Russia has given the green light to its vaccine, Sputnik V, for use by people over the age of 60, Russian news agencies have reported, citing the Health Ministry. Older citizens had previously been excluded from Russia's national vaccine program, as the injection had been tested on this age group separately. The news will offer some relief in the country that has now recorded 3 million COVID-19 cases.

The first 9,750 vaccine doses have arrived in Greece, transported across the Bulgarian border in the north escorted by six police cars. Vaccinations will begin at five Athens hospitals on Sunday. Health personnel and elderly residents of nursing homes are first in line to be vaccinated.

Middle East 

A fire in a hospital in Egypt has killed seven coronavirus patients. Five other people were also injured in the blaze in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Obour district, in the northern outskirts of Cairo.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, security and judicial sources said. Prosecutors have launched a probe into the fire.

Egypt has so far reported 130,126 coronavirus cases and 7,309 deaths. Hospitals across the country face are mounting pressure as infections continue to rise. 


The president of Turkmenistan has said that licorice could cure coronavirus, without citing any scientific evidence. 

"Scientists from every country are looking for effective cures, running various studies, and one of them could be licorice root," Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov told ministers. He added that "licorice stops the coronavirus from developing" and that "even a weak concentration of a water-based extract has a neutralizing effect."

The president said Turkmenistan has "sufficient reserves" of licorice and ordered the country's academy of sciences to study the plant's supposed health benefits.

Mainland China recorded 20 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 14 cases the previous day, the country's health authority said on Saturday. The National Health Commission said in its daily bulletin that 12 of the new cases were imported and eight were locally transmitted.

The Chinese city of Wuhan was the original epicenter of the virus, but China has since managed to contain the pandemic.

The health ministry in Japan has confirmed the country's first cases of infection with the new coronavirus variant identified in Britain. Five people arrived in the country infected with the new variant between December 18 and December 21. In response, Shigeru Omi, head of the government COVID-19 task force, has called for tighter border controls.

South Korea has recorded its largest daily increase with 1,241 infections. Although not as high a figure as other countries, some fear the country will erase gains made in pandemic control during the spring. Officials eased social distancing rules to their lowest in October, allowing high-risk venues like clubs and karaoke rooms to reopen.

Retired golfer Greg Norman, a two-time major winner from Australia, has posted photos on social media suggesting he had been hospitalized with the coronavirus. Norman shared a video on Instagram on Friday saying he was experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, before posting photos showing himself in a hospital bed.

"This sums it all up," he wrote. "My Christmas Day."

Norman's son, Greg Norman Jr., also said that he and his wife, Michelle, have tested positive. The Normans played in the father-son PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida, last weekend.


The CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd has shown efficacy between 50% and 90% in trials in Brazil, according to Sao Paulo State Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn. Results of trials in Brazil are known exclusively by Sao Paulo state's Butantan Institute biomedical research center, which has an agreement with Sinovac to produce the vaccine. Concerns had been raised concerns over a failure to provide data on the trials earlier this week.

In the United States, the first publicized allergic reaction to the vaccine produced by US company Moderna has been reported by The New York Times. An oncologist for the Boston Medical Center who is allergic to shellfish began feeling dizzy and experiencing a racing heart after he was inoculated.

"He was taken to the Emergency Department, evaluated, treated, observed and discharged. He is doing well," David Kibbe, a spokesman for the center said in a statement. Until now, reports of an allergic reaction had only been linked to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.

Visitors to Cuba will have to present a negative test for the novel coronavirus to gain entry to the country from January 10 onward, the Communist Party's official newspaper Granma reported. Only test results from within 72 hours before departure will be accepted, according to the report. Cuba recorded 217 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday — the highest number registered in one day since the pandemic hit in March.

kmm, jsi, mvb/mm (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)