The Christmas bubble, which promised respite from a year of restrictions, was scrapped on Saturday, plunging England into a state of panic and confusion. The reason for Boris’ u-turn is the new variant of coronavirus (VUI – 202012/01) that’s accelerating across much of the South East. The mutated strain was first identified in Kent and is now spreading rapidly into London and Essex.
Why is this variant more transmissible?
It has long been known that mutations in the spike protein – the part of the virus that makes it infectious – can change how the virus interacts with human cells.
However, researchers do not yet know the mechanism for this increase in transmission.
According to PHE, the evidence shows that infection rates in geographical areas where this particular strain has been circulating have increased faster than expected.
“The modelling evidence has demonstrated that this variant has a higher transmission rate than other variants in current circulation,” says the heath body.
How long has this variant been in circulation?
All viruses mutate over time and new variants emerge regularly.
According to PHE, backwards tracing using the genetic evidence suggests this variant emerged in September 2020 and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November.
The increase in cases linked to the new variant first came to light in late November when PHE was investigating why infection rates in Kent were not falling despite national restrictions.
The health body then discovered a cluster linked to this variant spreading rapidly into London and Essex.
What are the symptoms of the new variant?
There is no evidence to suggest the symptoms differ from the main symptoms associated with COVID-19.
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.
- “Most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms,” explains the NHS.
If you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus, get a test to check if you have coronavirus as soon as possible.
You and anyone you live with should stay at home and not have visitors until you get your test result – only leave your home to have a test.