MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Minnesotans decide whether to gather with family and relatives this Christmas, the message from United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson to his citizens about the upcoming holiday is bleak.

“It is with a very heavy heart I tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said.

Britain is weathering a new strain of COVID-19 that experts say is 70% more infectious than others, leading to strict lockdowns and travel restrictions from at least 40 countries. The strain may spread more easily, but experts said it’s not more deadly. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says they are monitoring the situation across the pond.

“It’s not leading to increased severity of illness or increased mortality, but rather greater ease of spread,” Malcom said. “We certainly have seen pretty significant ease of spread in the variants that we have here, so we’re not sure how much more easily transmissible they’re talking about.”

There are a few strains of COVID-19. MDH officials said two of them are in Minnesota. There’s the Asian Strain and the European D614G, the latter of which is the most prevalent worldwide. It’s unknown if the new strain in the U.K. has made it to the U.S.

“Our laboratory is a leader in whole genome sequencing and has been already routinely scanning for, looking for new variants. So as new variants occur, we will be able to spot them and we are on the lookout for them,” Malcom said.

Minnesota’s lab has found slight mutations of the virus, which allowed MDH to detect clusters of cases, but nothing of great concern.

However, health officials advise people to continue following safety guidelines, like wearing masks and social distancing, to decrease the chance of new strains developing.

The good news from health officials is that the vaccines that are available should still be effective against new COVID-19 strains.

Jeff Wagner