New strain of Covid set to become dominant form of the virus but there is no need to panic

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

Scientists have concluded there is nothing to stop the new strain of Covid-19 from becoming the dominant form of the virus in the coming months.Bad news, given that all the evidence so far points to it being a more infectious form than we’ve encountered before.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t know how to contain it and we also have the prospect of a vaccine slowly bringing our epidemic to a halt. On Monday we learned 500,000 people had received their first dose of the jab.So what do we know about the new variant?The government’s NERVTAG committee on new viruses met again on Monday and they concluded that there is more evidence to suggest the new strain is more infectious. It’s been found at low levels across most of the UK except Northern Ireland but there is no surveillance for the strain in the province at the moment.

As well as higher rates of transmission in the South East and London it could be responsible for a rise of cases in South Wales and there is a cluster in Cumbria under investigation.Thankfully there is no evidence that people who catch the virus strain suffer more severely than with previous variants of Covid-19.The mutations that have evolved, make it distinct from any other variant that has been identified worldwide.

Some of them are on parts of the spike protein of the virus that explain how it might be able to infect cells more effectively.

Tom Clarke explains that the vaccine is the main focus when it comes to overcoming the virus

More concerning are other mutations that could have evolved to evade our immune response. This raises questions about whether it might cause reinfection in people who had caught other variants of the virus before.

But it's expected our broad immune response should be able to outsmart those mutations.

For the same reason, it’s hoped the vaccines being rolled out - and future ones ready for deployment - should still work.

Current vaccines will still prevent people from contracting the new strain. Credit: Jacob King/PA

Many people are wondering, if the virus is now present across the UK, why we aren’t putting everywhere into Tier 4.The explanation seems to be that the new strain will be growing from a very low base in other areas. In addition, the Christmas period should lead to an initial reduction in new cases because schools are closed for two weeks.

Most of the transmission in London and the South East was in school-aged children. And there is some evidence the new strain may spread more effectively among children.What measures the rest of the nation faces will largely depend on what happens to cases over the Christmas period.But the government Chief Scientist Sir Patrick Vallance suggested that all of us can expect increased restrictions in the not too distant future. But how severe those restrictions are, largely depend on what happens in the next week or two.