Mutant coronavirus found in UK will become dominant global strain – scientist


The new mutated virus found in the UK is likely to become the dominant global strain of Covid-19, a scientist advising the Government has said.

Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the new strain is infecting many more people in the same amount of time that the previous variant did.

When asked on Sky News whether the mutant coronavirus will become the dominant strain around the world, he said: "I suspect it will, or strains like it will.

"Because the virus has the evolutionary advantage in transmitting more quickly, it will out-compete all the other strains, and so it will naturally do that.

"As immunity comes into the community more widely, then you'll start to see more pressure on the virus and you're more likely to see other escapes of other variations."

He said this is not a surprise as the UK deals with evolving strains of the flu virus every year, adding: "The flu vaccine typically contains three or four flavours of the influenza virus and we simply pick on a best-guess basis each season, and then people that make the vaccines scale up in a timely manner."

He described the UK as a world leader in identifying and understanding how diseases behave.

Professor Semple said: "We shouldn't beat ourselves up about this evolving here.

"The fact is we've identified it, we've brought it to national attention, we've got the attention of the politicians and the World Health Organisation in very quick time."

Prof Semple said it was too early to be sure how a vaccine will behave with the new strain, adding: "We do not yet have herd immunity despite those people that think herd immunity is going to be the salvation.

"We won't have it until a very large number of people have been vaccinated."

Concerns about the spread of the new variant has led to the dramatic scaling back of Christmas plans, with mixing banned in Tier 4 areas and the three-household provision being allowed for just Christmas Day in the rest of England.

Boris Johnson said the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it was "out of control" and the Tier 4 lockdown may have to remain in place for months.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, and a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said areas outside of Tier 4 with lower levels of the new strain could be around three weeks behind.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: "We really need to tighten down the hatches in order to stop the spread of this strain whilst we can get as many people vaccinated as possible.

"I think we need to be doing that across the country, we can see internationally countries are taking action to stop travel from the UK, I think we should be taking our own action to stop international travel.

"It would be the responsible thing to do."

He said early warnings of the new strain was heard by NervTag on Friday December 11, before the Government announced London and parts of Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire would be moved to Tier 3 restrictions.

He said there has been frantic efforts to gather more information "over record time", which has given scientists a much higher degree of certainty about the extent and speed of spread.