The emergence of a new strain of the CCP virus in southeast England is the “worst news” of the pandemic that has ravaged Britain and the rest of the world since March, a UK Government scientist has said.
“If the vaccine is the best news, this is the worst news we’ve had so far,” Professor Andrew Hayward, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare at University College London (UCL) told Sky News on Monday.
Hayward is one of the government’s 17-member strong New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
Speaking at a TV briefing on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said NERVTAG had found that the new variant spreads much faster than the original strain and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty confirmed that Public Health England’s (PHE) genomic surveillance had also shown the faster spread.
“NERVTAG’s early analysis suggests the new variant could increase the R [reproduction number] by 0.4 or more,” Johnson said.
“Although there’s considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original version of the disease,” he added.
In light of this “really terrible news,” and in order to stop the spread of the new strain, Hayward said, “we really, really, need to tighten down the hatches” and get “as many people vaccinated as possible.”
“And I think we need to be doing that across the country,” he added.
Hayward’s warning comes after Johnson, on Saturday, cut the concession in which up to three UK households were going to be allowed to mix over a festive five-day period down to one day—Christmas day.
It also comes after countries across the world halted air travel to the UK amid mounting concerns about the new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus mutation. France closed its borders for 48 hours on Sunday, triggering fears the measures could lead to food shortages if not soon reversed.
“We can see internationally that other countries are taking action to stop travel from the UK,” Hayward said.
“I think we should be taking our own action to stop international travel. That would be the responsible thing to do,” he added.
Faster Spreading Mutation
Also following the news of the faster spreading mutation, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for an extension of the Brexit transition period beyond the looming Dec. 31 deadline.
“It is now imperative that PM [Boris Johnson] seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period,” Sturgeon wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
“The new COVID strain—and the various implications of it—means we face a profoundly serious situation, and it demands our 100 percent attention,” Sturgeon wrote.
Johnson said on Saturday, however, that “There’s no evidence to suggest” that the new strain “is more lethal or causes more severe illness.”
“Equally, there’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant,” he added.
Responding to the news of the new virus variant, Prof Julian Hiscox, Chair in Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool, said that “Coronaviruses mutate all the time so it is not unexpected that new variants of SARS-CoV-2 are emerging.”
He said that the UK has “great systems in place” to identify variants and adjust the public health response accordingly.
He called for more analysis of the new strain to see what its impact on “human health, diagnostics, and vaccines” is and for “robust mechanisms” to be put in place to facilitate this.
Meanwhile, “Stopping the spread of this virus is simple: people need to follow and obey the guidance,” he said, adhere to the Tier system rules, “and have common sense.”
“The more people you come into contact with, the more chance of spreading. So, avoid social mixing—it’s not long to wait for the widespread roll-out of the vaccine,” he added.
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.