Coronavirus live news: US misses vaccination target by millions; outcry over ‘illogical’ London school closures | World news
The new UK variant of the coronavirus, B117, is more transmissible than older variants, and appears to have a greater impact on those under 20 a new study has confirmed.
The research, led by scientists at Imperial College London and largely based on data relating to the second England lockdown, reveals the new variant has an R number 1.4-1.8 times larger than older variants. Put another way, the team says the R number for the new variant is between 0.4 and 0.7 higher than that of older variants.
The R number reflects the average number of people one infected person will go on to infect. If R is above 1, an epidemic can grow exponentially, whereas if R is below 1, the epidemic shrinks.
During the UK lockdown in the spring the R number fell to between 0.6 and 0.9 by the end of April. However, the new data suggests that such measures may not be enough to produce a similar effect for the new variant.
It would certainly be a close run thing,” Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, told the Guardian, adding that if R for the new variant is 1.5 times higher than for older variants, “lockdown 1 might have still achieved control (1.5 x 0.6=0.9), making perhaps optimistic assumptions.”
A key factor, he added, is that it is not clear what effect closing schools and universities has on transmission – a strategy applied in the first lockdown, but not the second.
“The next two weeks will be critical, especially in the highest risk areas. If we see case numbers start to plateau and decline while schools and colleges remain closed, we will at least know that control is possible, even if at a high cost,” he said. “We’re in a very difficult place right now.”
Research published this month from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that even if tier 4 restrictions were applied across England from 26 December until 31 January, the R value of the new variant in England would not fall below 1.
Prof Axel Gandy of Imperial College London, said: “Until a very high proportion of the population has been vaccinated, strong social distancing measures are needed to control this more transmissible variant of Covid-19. Everybody that can be vaccinated should be vaccinated.”