A second COVID strain has been identified
A second COVID strain has been identified

With parts of the country ushered into a new lockdown and Christmas plans changed as a more contagious coronavirus strain emerges, leading experts have been commenting on the new variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last weekend announced a new tier 4 with strict limitations and said households in other parts of the country outside the new tier could only mix on Christmas Day as opposed to the five days over the festive period originally planned.

The spread of a new coronavirus variant has been blamed for the move. It was first detected in September and is the most common form of the virus in many parts of the country. Last month about a quarter of cases in the capital were down to the new variant, while it was responsible for almost two-thirds of cases by mid-December. However, not much is known about this new strain.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Nick Loman, of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, said: “Laboratory experiments are required, but do you want to wait weeks or months [to see the results and take action to limit the spread]? Probably not in these circumstances.”

It has been suggested that this new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible and might be the reason behind the recent increase in the R number by 0.4, according to the Prime Minister.

In a presentation last Friday, Dr Erik Volz, from Imperial College London, said: “It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this.”

He said there was a question mark over exactly how infectious the variant may be, despite the 70% estimates by some scientists.

University of Nottingham virologist Professor Jonathan Ball added: “The amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission.”

All of the vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 should work on the new strain, according to experts, although they might need to change and adapt. This would mean that vaccines would need to be regularly updated similar to flu vaccination drugs.

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