The appearance of a new much more contagious strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom is worrying epidemiologists and has led several countries to suspend flights from the United Kingdom for the time being.
A new strain in the UK
The British government’s scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, had pointed out on Saturday that this new variant of Sars-Cov-2 is not only spreading rapidly but is also becoming the “dominant” form and has led to a very strong increase in hospital admissions in December. It appears that it may have started in London or Kent by mid-September, he said.
“The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) now believes that this new strain can spread more rapidly,” England’s medical director, Chris Whitty, said in a statement.
This view is based on the observation that “there has been a very sharp increase in cases and hospitalizations in London and the South East in recent days compared with the rest of England,” said Paul Hunter Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, quoted on the Science Media Centre website. “This increase appears to be caused by the new strain,” he added, referring to information from health authorities. However, “there is currently no evidence that the new strain is causing an increase in mortality or affecting vaccines and treatments, but work is urgently underway to confirm this,” Whitty said.
A virus that has become more contagious
The information “about this new strain is very worrying,” said Professor Peter Openshaw, an immunologist at Imperial College London, quoted by the Science Media Centre. Mainly because “it appears to be 40% to 70% more transmissible. This is very bad news,” said Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “it seems that this virus is much more infectious than the previous strain.
Coronaviruses mutate all the time.
According to Dr. Julian Tang of the University of Leicester, “This N501Y mutation circulated outside the UK long before this year, in Australia in June-July, in the USA in July, and in Brazil in April. “Coronaviruses mutate all the time, so it is not surprising that new variants of SARS-Cov-2 are emerging,” said Professor Julian Hiscox of the University of Liverpool. The most important thing is to find out whether this variant has properties that have implications for human health, diagnostics, and vaccines.
“The more viruses that are produced and therefore the more people who are infected, the more random mutations there will be and the greater the frequency of beneficial mutations for the virus,” said Professor Axel Kahn.
Suspension of flights from the United Kingdom
The confirmation of the spread of this strain convinced the British authorities to put more restrictions on London and part of England (total population 16 million). “Unfortunately, the new strain was out of control. We needed to regain control and the only way to do that is to restrict social contact,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday.
After the Netherlands suspended all passenger flights from Britain on Sunday, Germany is also seriously considering a similar measure. Belgium is preparing to do the same for air and rail services. France is following the example of the Netherlands. A first case was reported in Italy on Monday morning.