11:24 GMT25 January 2021
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    A new variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7 was identified in Britain last month in Kent, a county in South East England. The variant is believed to be more contagious but not deadlier than previous COVID-19 variants and has already been found in at least 33 countries and at least five US states.

    In a recent study, researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, Public Health England, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Birmingham and the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium used statistical analysis to evaluate the link between transmission and the frequency of the new variant across various regions.

    According to a news release describing the study, the researchers found that people under 20 years old make up a higher proportion of cases of B.1.1.7, which the study calls the “variant of concern” (VOC), than they do non-VOC cases.

    ​Despite the finding, researchers still state that it’s too early to “determine the mechanism behind this change.”

    “They [researchers] explain that it may partly have been influenced by the variants spread coinciding with a period where lockdown was in force but schools were open. Further research is ongoing on the specific nature of any changes in how the virus affects this age group,” the news release explains.

    Some scientists have also suggested that the new variant of the virus spreads 50% to 70% faster than other strains. 

    This particular study estimated that the reproduction number for the new variant is between 1.4 and 1.8, which is 0.4 to 0.7 higher compared to other variants of the virus. The reproduction number of an indicator of the number of people expected to be infected by a single person in a homogenous population.

    “These analyses, which have informed UK government planning in recent weeks, show that the new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, has substantially higher transmissibility than previous SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the UK. This will make control more difficult and further accentuates the urgency of rolling out vaccination as quickly as possible,” Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said in the news release.

    In addition to the UK variant, another new variant of COVID-19 has been identified in South Africa. Called 501.V2, the variant carries mutations in its spike protein, which allows the virus to penetrate host cells and cause infection.

    On Monday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa is more troubling than the one found in the UK.

    “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” Hancock told BBC Radio.


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