On Friday night President Iván Duque during his evening broadcast to the nation  Prevención y Acción (Prevention and Action) confirmed the inevitable: the U.K variant of coronavirus has reached Colombia and detected in two samples taken from patients in the coffee-growing department of Caldas.

The news was corroborated by Minister of Health Fernando Ruiz based on findings of the National Health Institute. “This indicates that in the department of Caldas, and most likely in the country, we already have a significant circulation of the British strain,” remarked Ruíz. “This strain is more transmissible, but not necessarily more lethal. It has a lethality equal to the other strains of the coronavirus,” he said. The strain, known as B.1.1.7, emerged last September in the U.K and has been traced to recent surges in coronavirus infections in Canada and United States. Ruiz also stressed that the variant is circulating in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Argentina.

Given the highly infectious nature of the U.K variant, President Duque called on Colombians to enforce public health measures. “The way to deal with the presence of these variants is precisely with self-protection, use of a face mask, constant hand washing and something supremely important: avoiding crowds,” he said. Minister Ruíz emphasized “that not using a mask is not an option. I am going to repeat it again: the non-use of the mask in Colombia is not an option.”

The head of the health portfolio also highlighted that the four coronavirus vaccines – Pfizer, Sinovac, AstraZenece and Moderna – currently being administered in the country to persons aged 65 or over are all effective against the British variant. “The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the most widely used in the United Kingdom, and with which more than 20 million people have been vaccinated, has shown to be very effective against the British variant and others,” he concluded.