A new strain of Covid-19, thought to be up to 70% more transmissible than previously known strains, has been found in the UK. England’s top scientists announced the discovery on Saturday which has forced the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to take action. Most of the south east has been placed into a new tier 4 – effectively a lockdown – while Christmas plans for the rest of the country have changed.
In his announcement on Saturday, the PM said, “This is early data, and it’s subject to review, but it’s the best that we have at the moment and we have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast.”
Professor of immunology at Imperial College London, Danny Altmann, said that he was concerned about the new strain.
Speaking to CNBC, he said, “Since the beginning of this, we’ve seen mutations occur all over the world, many thousands of them, but this one has more mutations than any variant we’ve seen before.”
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said, “This new variant not only moves fast, it is increased in its ability to transmit, but it’s becoming the dominant variant. It is beating all the others in terms of transmission.”
Whitty did, however, add there was no evidence the new strain caused a more severe reaction to the virus or more severe symptoms. He said there might be reasons to believe the new variant will affect people’s immune response, but there is not yet enough to prove that this is the case.
Health officials believe the new variant first made an appearance in the middle of September in London or Kent. Whitty says it was thought to cause roughly 28% of cases in these areas by November.
The figures are now looking a lot higher, with a predicted 60% of the new cases having been caused by the latest variant of Covid-19.
Altmann also commented that the new strain “really does seem to account for the uncontrollability that we’ve seen in London and the South East in recent months.”
There have of course been concerns raised over the effectiveness of the vaccine on the variant. However, Altmann said that, due to the neutralising effect of the various antibodies induced by the vaccines, it was not very likely the new strain will resist the current jabs.
Currently, Whitty says, there is little information, and they need to work out whether the new strain is more easily transmitted, has more severe effects on the people it infects and whether it can change the way a person’s immune system responds to the virus if they were already infected or vaccinated.