Israel is feared to be the latest country to be hit by the mutated strain of coronavirus spread by mink in Denmark.
The Israeli Health Ministry is testing three citizens who recently returned from the Scandinavian country where the new infection is spreading from animals to humans.
If positive, Israel could join the US, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden in reported mink Covid cases.
Israel is feared to be the seventh country to have reported coronavirus cases linked to mink farms after a Covid mutation spreading from the animals to humans was found in Denmark
Denmark has already ordered a cull of its 17 million mink after fears the new strain could be resistant to future vaccines
The Danish Government has ordered a cull of 17million mink to try to eradicate the mutant strain, which is thought to have originated on fur farms. Officials fear it could scupper a Covid-19 vaccine before one is even found to work.
Scientists believe the virus jumped from farm workers to mink in the summer before being passed back to humans.
As it crossed between species, a mutation occurred on its ‘spike’ protein, which it uses to enter human cells.
Denmark has imposed strict measures on the north of the country after warning that the the mutation had infected 12 people.
Officials from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency wearing PPE arrive to start killing minks in Gjol
Coronavirus has spread from minks to humans in hundreds of cases – but the mutant strain is restricted to just 12 infections. Scientists fear this small number could the beginning of ‘a new pandemic starting again, this time from Denmark’.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said it could pose a ‘risk to the effectiveness’ of a much-anticipated future Covid-19 vaccine as the antibodies provided by the jab may not be effective enough.
In response, Britain banned all arrivals from Denmark over the weekend as the world scrambled to contain the new strain.
Denmark first learned a strain of coronavirus had crossed over from mink in June after an outbreak at a care home.
A ‘mutated version of coronavirus’ linked to Danish mink farms could undermine efforts to produce an effective vaccine
Cluster 5 has been found in 11 people in North Jutland (top) and one person in Zealand (island). Denmark has ordered seven areas in Jutland into lockdown
Five different strains of mutant mink coronavirus have been discovered in 214 people in Denmark since then.
But only one of these strains – known as Cluster 5 – is less sensitive to antibodies, Denmark’s State Serum Institute revealed.
Cluster 5 has been found in 11 people living in North Jutland – which has been placed under lockdown – and one person living in neighbouring Zealand.
While scientists at the institute have known for months – and insisted that the minks be killed or there would be a ‘major risk to public health’ – the laboratory results confirming their fears only came in this week.
The new Covid strain discovered in Denmark is less sensitive to an attack from Covid-19 antibodies, scientists have found. Pictured: Some of the culled mink in Denmark
Of the five farms where Cluster 5 was identified, only three of them were linked to four people with the infection, suggesting the strain is spreading between humans in the community.
Tests on Cluster 1 revealed its mutations did not hamper the immune response to an infection.
Laboratory analysis of the other three clusters are ongoing, and could take several weeks to report their results.
Denmark’s top epidemiologist told the Financial Times: ‘The worst-case scenario is a new pandemic starting again, this time from Denmark.’
Aarhus University professor and veterinary ecotoxicology expert Christian Sonne said the family of carnivorous mammals mutelids – which includes minks and ferrets – were ‘ticking bombs’. They eem to be more at risk of coronavirus than other creatures.
Denmark has locked down seven towns in North Jutland where a strain of coronavirus that evolved in mink was identified in humans. It has also ordered a nationwide culling of up to seven million minks. Pictured are minks in Naestvad, Denmark
Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said that transmission of the virus between animals and humans was ‘a concern’, but added: ‘Mutations (in viruses) are normal.
‘These type of changes in the virus are something we have been tracking since the beginning.’
Soumya Swaminathan – the WHO’s chief scientist – said on Friday that it is too early to jump to conclusions.
She 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.
‘We don’t have any evidence at the moment that it would.’
WHAT IS THE NEW COVID-19 STRAIN AND SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?
What is going on in Denmark?
The coronavirus which originated in China and is currently racing through the world’s population was passed from humans to mink.
When it entered the mink population the virus was forced to mutate to multiply inside its new host and spread among the animals, creating a new strain.
At some point this new variant was then passed back to humans.
Should we be worried?
So far experts believe the new strain – known as Cluster 5 – is not more infectious or deadly than previous versions.
But there is a concern that it is less sensitive to antibodies – substances produced by the immune system to fight off infections.
Vaccines work by training the body to be able to unleash a wave of antibodies when the virus tries to infect people.
This has raised concerns that it might render any future Covid-19 vaccine less effective if it were to spread.
Danish specialists have warned it could theoretically start a new pandemic.
How did it happen?
All viruses naturally mutate as they spread.
The sole purpose of the virus is to replicate as many times as possible, and many pathogens evolve over time in order to become more infectious — which often makes them less deadly so they can survive for longer and be spread to more people.
It is believed SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats before jumping to humans in China, possibly via an intermediary species such as a pangolin.
Mink in Denmark are believed to have caught the virus from infected workers at fur farms.
The virus then mutated in the minks before ‘spilling back’ to reinfect humans.
Are there any mink in the UK?
The risk of something similar happening in the UK is low because fur farming has been banned here since 2002.
There are populations of wild mink in the UK after they were shipped over from America for fur farming decades ago.
But people rarely come into close contact with wild mink, meaning the threat of Covid-19 transmission is low.