There is a consistent stream of news on the “variant” SARS-CoV-2 virus from the U.K. This virus variant, known as B.1.1.7, first came to attention in December. Researchers determined that it had rapidly become more common across Britain in just a couple of months.
The variant has been described as “fast-spreading” because it is was reported to have gained a worrisome mutation that could make it “highly contagious,” cause “more sever disease,” and be “more deadly.” Recently, Public Health England (PHE) reported it is potentially harder to control with vaccine, based on “an experiment.”
Unfortunately, none of these concerns has been validated by real world studies in humans. In fact, it was experiments in test tubes that suggest some of its mutations allow the B.1.1.7 variant to hold on to cells more tightly than other coronaviruses. This theoretically could result in more infectivity.
But when one looks at COVID-19 in the U.K., as presented by PHE, several things become apparent.
The percentage of COVID-19 cases with the B.1.1.7 mutation has increased rapidly from 3 September 2020 to 10 February 2021, to the point that it is currently 95% of all infections (Orange line, light purple bars showing total numbers of infections). But the absolute number of infections with the variant has dropped dramatically since it was first identified in early December (dark purple bars) so that total infections even with the variant are at the lowest point since mid September!
So, while this variant has been reported to be”dangerous,” simple public health measures seem to work well in preventing it. We should not be scared that we can’t control this with the same measures that we have already prove valuable to prevent COVID-19.