The UK COVID19 variant (called VOC 202012/01) has 17 mutations, among which eight are located in the spike protein (the key which unlocks our cells for infection). At least three mutations have the potential to change the game.
A few days ago, scientists from the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases came out with the first (and only) study on the new UK variant. The scientists were able to get this out quick because this study is considered a “social” epidemiological study. In short, they used data from hospitals, seroprevalence, and mobile phones to model mathematical equations.
They found that the new variant is spreading faster. In fact, it’s 56% more transmissible than previous variants. They were able to use the equations to know that the increase is NOT due to increased social interactions. This suggests that, wherever this variant is, there will be an onslaught of cases. The epidemiological curve in Wales is something we can expect. The good news is that the variant doesn’t lead to a higher rate of severe disease (ie symptoms or death). In other words, if you get infected by this variant, the likelihood of ending up in the hospital or dying is the same as other variants.
The scientists were very clear that current public health measures won’t stop its spread. The R(0) is too high. They suggested that schools need to be closed until February. Especially since it seems that this new variant is highly transmissible among kids (this is where the hot spots of the new variant seem to be coming from). Also, they called for more urgent vaccination campaigns. We aren’t vaccinating quick enough.
We aren’t sure if this new variant is in the United States. However, we would be surprised if it wasn’t, considering the incredible global reach of COVID19. Anything we do now (like cancelling flights) is likely way too late.
This study starts painting a very important picture of the new variant. We are still waiting on “biological” studies to point us to the exact mutation that’s causing this, so we can learn more. In the meantime, stay vigilant and get your vaccine.