The United Kingdom announced a surprise lockdown on Saturday in London and parts of the country amid a surge in the cases of the coronavirus disease after the discovery of a new strain of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19.
According to experts, the new strain is 70% more infectious than other strains of the virus. It is believed that most of the new cases in the country are driven by this variant, with up to 60% of the cases in London being caused by it.
Why is the variant causing concern?
There has been concern about the latest variant as it is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus and according to experts, this would result in its spread more easily. Although, nothing can be said with certainty but as a precautionary measure the country has been put into a fresh lockdown.
"It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than (a previous variant) ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a press conference.
How new is the variant?
The variant is not new. In fact, it was first detected in September. In November, around a quarter of cases in London were from the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December, according to a report in the BBC.
Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, said, "The amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission."
How far is the spread in the UK and the world?
The variant has been found across the UK, except Northern Ireland, but it is heavily concentrated in London, the South East and eastern England. Cases elsewhere in the country do not seem to have taken off.
Data from Nextstrain, which has been monitoring the genetic codes of the viral samples around the world, suggest cases in Denmark and Australia have come from the UK.
The Netherlands has also reported cases. A similar variant that has emerged in South Africa shares some of the same mutations, but appears to be unrelated to this one.
Will the mutation be more deadly?
There is no evidence to suggest the same, although this is being monitored. However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals.
If the new variant means more people are infected more quickly, that would, in turn, lead to more people needing hospital treatment.
Will the vaccines work against the new variant?
Almost certainly yes, or at least for now.