A new variant of the coronavirus in Great Britain that researchers say spreads 70 percent more effectively is causing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shutter many parts of the country for Christmas.
The new strain of COVID-19 is no deadlier than the original virus, nor does it appear to make people sicker. But it does spread more easily, and that has spooked the British government into basically canceling Christmas.
The researchers believe the vaccine developed by Pfizer will still be effective, but scientists are scrambling to confirm that.
According to Whitty, the new variant is responsible for 60% of infections in London, which have nearly doubled in the last week.
Earlier, he said “urgent work” is underway to establish whether the new strain, prevalent in the southeast of England, can cause a higher mortality rate.
“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this,” Whitty said in a statement.
There doesn’t appear to be any large-scale virus fatigue, as there is in America. But given these restrictions, expect resistance soon.
As a result, non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks, while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
A “bubble” policy — allowing up to three households to meet up over the holiday period — will be severely curtailed and will only apply on Christmas Day, Johnson said.
He added that he “bitterly regretted” the changes, but insisted the changes were “necessary.”
Don’t be surprised if that number—70 percent faster spread of the virus—is revised downward. That estimate is based on “preliminary modeling” involving just a couple thousand cases. Obviously, the more data you have the more accurate your model. We’ll see how fast the new variant spreads after a month or two.
Meanwhile, one might ask why this makes any difference? If the vaccine is still effective against it (yet to be proven) and the mortality rate is no greater, why the concern?
The faster the coronavirus spreads, the more people will get sick. More sick people means more hospital beds will be needed. And while the percentage of severely ill people will probably stay steady, more infections mean more seriously ill and dead people.
So Johnson felt he had to act. Shutting down the country for a couple of weeks won’t help. The new variant will still be present when the lockdowns end. That’s one lesson we learned from spring lockdowns here. And once the virus starts infecting people again, we begin the same cycle as before: reopening, followed by restrictions, followed by relaxed restrictions, followed by another lockdown.
That vaccine won’t be here soon enough.