By Our Reporter
Health authorities in the United Kingdom are on high alert after learning that a new variant of the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus recently discovered in the U.K. is significantly more transmissible.
This comes after a new research conducted by scientists at Imperial College London has been published as a pre-print, meaning it has not yet been reviewed by external experts to assess the validity of the methods and findings.
The research combined genetic sequencing data and epidemiological findings to conclude that the SARS-CoV2 B.1.1.7 variant was likely to increase the R number of between 0.4 and 0.7 compared to other variants. This means that a person with Covid-19 caused by the B.1.1.7 variant is likely to pass it on to more people than if they have another variant of the virus.
“These analyses, which have informed UK government planning in recent weeks, show that the new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, has substantially higher transmissibility than previous SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the U.K.,” said Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the scientists from Imperial College London involved in the study. “This will make control more difficult and further accentuates the urgency of rolling out vaccination as quickly as possible,” Ferguson added.
The variant, termed B.1.1.7, was first identified in the U.K. in September, but since then has quickly grown to be the most common variant in large areas of the U.K., particularly densely populated London and the South East. Due to its explosive growth and prevalence in these areas, it was suspected the new variant might be more transmissible, but this study provides significant evidence indicating this is indeed the case.
The U.K. is currently experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with over 53,000 new cases and almost 1,000 daily deaths were reported on Sunday. Most of the U.K. is now under the highest level of restrictions; “Tier 4” and experts are urging even more vigilance and compliance with existing public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus as well as quick and efficient roll-out of vaccines.
“We now have two licensed vaccines, but this research underlines the importance of doing everything we can to reduce the spread of the virus while the vaccines are being rolled out,” said Dr Meera Chand, Incident Director for Covid-19 at Public Health England.
Chand added that; “The basics remain very important: Comply with social distancing and abide by the restrictions in place.”
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