We now know that the new variant was first found on Sept 20, 2020 in Kent and another on Sept 21, 2020 in Greater London. The new variant spread undetected until early December 2020. It’s now been identified in several countries, including several states, however spread is likely all over. The US (and rest of the world) doesn’t have nearly the variant surveillance that the UK does. (This is likely why the variant was first detected in the UK).
In the UK, the body that considers new evidence about the virus is called the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG). They virtually met on Dec 18 and Dec 22. During these meetings, there were 3 independent analyses presented regarding transmissibility (one done by University of Edinburgh; one by Imperial College London; one by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). In short, all three analyses agreed that the new variant is somewhere between 56%-71% more transmissible compared to other variants. The R(t) is estimated to be 1.2 (which is 0.38 higher than other variants). “The committee therefore has high confidence that the new variant can spread faster than other variants currently circulating in the UK”.
In one of these preliminary analyses (by Imperial College), data suggested that there may be an increase in transmission in children aged <15 years. In the meeting minutes, this is followed in bold type by: “However, these data are preliminary, and more work is required before any firm conclusions can be reached”. The primary author of this analysis, Prof Neil Ferguson, followed up this statement saying, “We haven’t established any sort of causality on that, but we can see it in the data. We will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward.”
This preliminary analysis was followed by a London hospital worker (Ms Laura Duffel) stated “having a ward full of children with coronavirus”. The combination of these two events have sparked quite the concern. Ms Duffel’s claim was quickly denied by clinicians. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said children’s wards are not seeing any “significant pressure” from Covid-19.
In addition, members of COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) said they are not familiar with any data to suggest kids have more transmissibility than adults. COG-UK has examined the genetics of more than 160,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK and is constantly watching how the virus evolves to see whether any of the mutations are important. They said there is more data is needed to make any comments on how it affects specific groups.
So, in short, we need more data (story of our life). Making sweeping policy changes, like closing schools, is still unfounded in the US (in my humble opinion). We will see what the UK (and other countries) decide regarding schools soon.
More meeting minutes on the three analyses: https://m.box.com/shared_item/https%3A%2F%2Fapp.box.com%2Fs%2F3lkcbxepqixkg4mv640dpvvg978ixjtf/view/756964987830