The Health Secretary of the UK says that people "should behave as though they have it."
2020 really has been a whirlwind. At the start of the year, no one really knew what we were in for but in the blink of an eye, we're already in December after surviving the grief of losing loved ones to the coronavirus, doing everything we can to make sure we're financially stable, missing the people we couldn't be with because of lockdown and now, a vaccine for COVID-19 that's started rolling out. With Christmas coming, it seems like things might just get better and 2021 will be the light at the end of the tunnel.
However, that might not be the case for the United Kingdom. According to Bloomberg, U.K.'s Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the new strain of the coronavirus is “out of control” and mentioned that some parts of England will be forced into a new, higher tier of restrictions until a vaccine for this strain is rolled out. Now, more than 16 million Britons will be required to stay at home after a lockdown was put into action in London and southeast England on December 20. Additionally, the government pulled back the plans to relax the rules on getting together for Christmas.
“Cases have absolutely rocketed, so we’ve got a long way to go,” Hancock told Sky News. “I think it will be very difficult to keep it under control until the vaccine has rolled out.” People in the new Tier 4 areas “should behave as though they have it,” he said. “We made the commitment not knowing that there was going to be a new variant that spreads so much faster,” Hancock said of the original plans. He added that controlling the new strain of COVID-19 is "more important now than ever", that people stick to the rules and reduce social contact "because this is deadly serious...This is a deadly disease, we need to keep it under control, and it has been made more difficult by this new variant."
In order to control the spread of this new variant that is rapidly making it's way to people, measures have been taken to forbid household mixing in those areas and restrict socializing to just Christmas Day across the rest of England. People were ordered to keep to their local areas while extra police were being stationed at railways to keep people from traveling outside London. And according to The Times Of India, this strain has also been found in, Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, and South Africa.
Given that we're still not completely out of the woods with the original coronavirus, you might have some questions about whether this mutation is normal. Well, it is. "This is quite normal for viruses -- like influenza -- where different viruses may infect the same person, leading to a hybrid virus emerging. This is just one of the ways that natural viral variation arises," Dr. Julian Tang, Clinical Virologist at the University of Leicester explained, according to India Today. As for the viruses, the same thing applies. "Coronaviruses mutate all the time. So it is not unexpected that new variants of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] are emerging, we see this all the time in other human and animal coronaviruses," said Professor Julian Hiscox, Chair in Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool.
However, what makes this new virus so potent is the number of genetic changes it has, particularly in the spike protein, which is often responsible for how the virus interacts with a human cell. So is it more dangerous as a result? It's not exactly clear. UK government officials suspect that the new variant could be more transmissible than the earlier versions of the virus. Since it's extremely recent, scientists are still trying to find out what and why the virus is the way it is. And authorities are taking it very seriously.
Professor Peter Openshaw, former President of the British Society for Immunology, said, "It is right to take it seriously. Although there are only 23 mutations in the genetic code of 30,000 nucleotides, the variant does seem about 40-70 percent more transmissible". However, he added that at this moment, there is no proof that this virus causes any diseases that the previous strains of the coronavirus did. Dr. James Gill, Honorary Clinical Lecturer, Warwick Medical School, said, "We are still waiting to learn further about this new strain and that has to be the key information here. It appears to be more contagious, but we do not know if it is more or less dangerous. Hence, stronger restrictions are sensible."
While this may be happening in the UK, it is essential to take extra precautions when interacting with people or when ensuring personal hygiene and prevention measures. It's better to stay safe than be sorry.