New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a full travel ban from the UK to the US after the ‘mutant’ strain of COVID-19 that has caused cases to surge in Britain has now been found in New York.
De Blasio’s plea came during his daily press conference from City Hall on Tuesday morning, in which he urged the federal government to ‘stop the madness’.
It follows an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, who revealed that the super-infectious UK variant of the coronavirus has already been found upstate.
The first case of ‘mutant’ strand was reported in a remote nursing home in Colorado last week, and has since also been discovered in Florida and California.
De Blasio urged the White House to ‘shut down the danger now’ and stop all travel to and from the UK to prevent further exposure.
‘We all should be worried about this,’ De Blasio said of the new strain, clarifying that it isn’t more deadly, but is more infections that the original strand.
‘We need the federal government to step up here and ball all travel from the US to the UK,’ he said. ‘It’s time to stop the half measures.
‘Right now you can still get on a plane in London and not even have proof you have a negative test, then come to New York City and merrily spread the disease. Why is that going on. Why?’
Referring to the lack of a ban as ‘madness’, de Blasio called for the federal government to implement such a policy ‘right now’. The Mayor said a total ban would buy the state time to ‘get vaccinations done’ and properly protect residents.
‘But if we don’t have a total ban, then we are literally inviting this horrible variant in the door even more – and that makes no sense,’ de Blasio said.
‘The inconvenience [the ban] poses to travelers pales in comparison to the danger this variant poses to all of us.’
The Empire State has become the fourth in the nation to detect the ‘mutant’ variant of the virus that began ravaging across the UK towards the end of last year, causing cases to surge and forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a third nationwide lockdown Monday.
Cuomo identified the New York patient Monday as a male jewelry store worker in Saratoga Springs, who is in his 60s. The man did have COVID-19 symptoms but is ‘on the mend’, he said.
Three other people linked to the jewelry store have also since tested positive for COVID-19, but Cuomo said it’s unknown if they have the variant.
Much like the first US case of the variant found in Colorado, the man had no recent travel history, suggesting a community spread.
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The CDC believes the strain first emerged in Britain in September and said last week it suspects it has been circulating in the US for some time.
The strain is thought to be up to 50 percent more transmissible but not more deadly.
The UK is also currently grappling with a second mutant strain of the virus, said to originate from South Africa, which experts fear may be resistant to vaccines and potentially more deadly.
That strain has not yet been detected in the US, and de Blasio made no reference to it during his Monday conference.
Officials say they expect more variations of the virus to emerge overtime.
De Blasio Tuesday also announced that up to 160 vaccination sites will be set up across the five boroughs of New York City by the end of the week.
New 24-hour ‘mass vaccination’ sites will also open across the Big Apple within ‘a few days’, the mayor pledged.
Nationwide, the vaccine roll out has been hampered by a number of logistical hurdles, confusion over who can currently get a shot and a slowdown of jabs of the holiday season.
Data published by the CDC on Tuesday indicated that around 4.5 million people have so far received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in the US, which is well short of President Trump’s goal of 20 million by December’s end.
While frustration over the disappointing national rollout out continues, disputes have emerged on a local level too – not least in New York.
During their respective Monday conferences, de Blasio and Cuomo exchanged a war of words regarding vaccine distribution and administration.
Come as the first time in sometime that the pair have been at odds over an issue, the feud was ignited when a spokesperson for the mayor accused Cuomo of ‘tough guy antics’. De Blasio then called the governor arrogant.
The Mayor’s comments came in response to Cuomo’s threat earlier in the day to fine hospitals up to $100,000 if they fail to use their current vaccine inventories by the end of the week.
Cuomo also said hospitals would have to use their inventories within seven days of receipt from now on in, adding they could be disqualified from the program if they fail to do so.
The Governor said around 46 percent of hospitals statewide are yet to use their full vaccine allocations, blaming poor hospital management for the disappointing return.
De Blasio appeared to take offense at the criticism leveled towards the city’s public health system, calling on Cuomo to ‘respect and trust our health care professionals’.
Hizzoner doubled down on the backlash Tuesday, kicking off his press conference with a lengthy tribute to ‘our healthcare heroes’.
‘This is a moment for cooperation. This is a moment for trust. This is a moment for partnership. What we need is the freedom to vaccinate,’ he said.
‘We need to listen to our healthcare leaders and our healthcare workers who are saying, ‘Give us the flexibility to vaccinate more and more people. Let us have the ability to do our jobs the right way.’ Give them the freedom to vaccinate and they will vaccinate.’
De Blasio continued: ‘What they don’t need is to be shamed, what they don’t need is more bureaucracy, what they don’t need is the threat of fines.
‘If the state of New York says, ‘Well, you get $1 million fine if you move too quickly and you get a $100,000 fine if you move too slowly,’ that doesn’t get anyone anywhere. That just paralyzes people.’
Around 110,000 people in New York City have been vaccinated since inoculations began, but de Blasio is tipping immunizations to speed up in the weeks ahead.
The mayor called on the federal government to keep the supply chain steady and efficient, and blamed the governor for not expanding the option to more groups earlier.
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