‘This Is Our Early Alarm Bell’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions this week to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus and protect the NHS. Image: Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media via Getty
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions this week to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus and protect the NHS. Image: Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media via Getty

The rapid spread of the UK variant, B.1.1.7,  has scientists worried about a terrible new wave of COVID-19 cases, Science reports.

The new variant appears to be 50-70% more transmissible, according to London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine modeler Adam Kucharski. He warns that heightened transmissibility is “much more treacherous” than increased pathogenicity, sending more cases to already-overtaxed health systems.

What's next?

Scientists are watching how quickly the variant spreads in other countries.

  • Ominous early numbers are being seen in Ireland and Denmark.

  • The UK, Germany, and other countries are quickly rolling out sharp new restrictions.

  • A wait-and-see mode in other countries worries University of Basel virologist Emma Hodcroft: “I really hope that this time we can recognize that this is our early alarm bell … our chance to get ahead of this variant.”

  • As of yesterday, the UK variant had been detected in 40 other countries/territories; and the South Africa variant in 6, according to the WHO.

Another reason to act: “The more virus is circulating, the more chance mutants have to appear,” Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust’s director, told Science.
 

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