A passenger wearing a protective suit pushes a luggage cart at Frankfurt International Airport on December 19, 2020. Photo: Armando Babani / AFP

Germany has banned flights from the United Kingdom and convened an emergency cabinet meeting after British researchers discovered a new Covid-19 mutation in more than 60% of recent infections.

German medical authorities fear that mutation might be responsible for a recent spike in Covid-19 infections and casualties.

In a weekend tweet, the German government’s chief virology advisor Christian Drosten said it’s “possible” that this mutation and other possible mutations could make the virus more contagious. Drosten added that this was not necessarily the case and that the mutation had not yet turned up in German tests.

But German medical authorities think that the UK mutation probably has made the virus propagate faster, and fear what one top virologist calls a “super-exponential” curve – an exponential increase in the already-exponential rate of infection. The three-day moving average of daily deaths from Covid-19 reached 750 last week, three times the peak rate last spring.

Britain last week declared a Christmas lockdown, reversing an earlier commitment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow some latitude for holiday celebrations, after a sudden increase in virus infections and the discovery of the mutation.

The center-right daily Die Welt reported today, “The new variant has an unusually large number of genetic changes, especially in the spike protein, which enables the virus to penetrate cells.

The vaccines used in Great Britain made by the Mainz-based company Biontech generate an immune response against this specific protein. Consequently, the concern has arisen that the vaccine may not work against the new variant.”

Germany’s Bildzeitung reported today that starting at midnight Sunday, all air traffic between Germany and Britain will be forbidden; it is not yet clear, the newspaper added, whether the Eurotunnel linking Britain and the Continent will remain open, or whether ocean traffic will be halted as well. 

The German Federal Police warned travelers to Britain on Twitter: “It is possible that air traffic will be halted, due to the mutation of the coronavirus.”Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and other European leaders were in an emergency conference over the weekend, German media reported. Spain and Belgium are also restricting travel from the UK.

A senior German public health adviser said on background, “Given the large number of infections around the world, it’s a miracle that a mutation hasn’t happened earlier.”

If the mutation makes the virus more contagious, the adviser explained, the infection curve could become “super-exponential.” That is, the already exponential curve of transmission (due to the fact that each infected person transmits the virus to more than one other person) could be boosted by a much higher rate of transmission. In that case, European hospital facilities would be overwhelmed.