WE’RE facing the biggest imaginable nightmare before Christmas.
The way the new virus strain is mutating and spreading is like something from a sci-fi film.
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Its 23 changes to Covid’s genetic code could have a devastating effect on how contagious it is.
These strains evolve, occur by chance and mutate organically. There is little we can do about it.
This variant first appeared in September in London and Kent.
By mid-November it was responsible for 28 per cent of the cases. Earlier this month it was more than 60 per cent.
It’s moving fast and becoming the dominant strain across much of England.
Nervtag, the Government’s panel of scientists who monitor viral chest infections, reckon it is 70 per cent more contagious.
It pushes up the “R” number by 0.4 — meaning that for every 100 people with Covid, 40 more will get it than would have if the original version had prevailed.
London and the South East have been badly hit because they are densely populated areas where many commute on public transport. Easing lockdown has probably worsened the situation.
The virus thrives on person-to-person contact, this new strain apparently more so.
I fear it’s already pretty much everywhere and it seems inevitable rates will rise from now to the year’s end, and not just in the community.
It is running amok in some hospitals where it risks infecting staff yet to develop full immunity from their first vaccine jab.
Quite why it spreads so effectively is not yet known.
One way it mutates is linked to changes in the spike protein — the sticking out bits that bind to our cells.
Some scientists believe this makes it more infectious. That’s possible, but not yet proven.
It’s unlikely the change will make the virus resistant to the new vaccines, but scientists should be able to make new versions.
That’s what is done every year with several different flu strains.
We also do not know yet if it increases the severity of Covid. Thankfully, it appears not to.
Only by monitoring will we find out what its clinical impact is and how we can deal with it.
We cannot let it run riot. If intensive care units fill up with patients struggling to breathe, there would be no space for those needing critical care after surgery or an accident.
Cancer patients on chemotherapy, who often have weakened immune systems, would be put at much greater risk.
Maybe you won’t be able to hug someone close to you this Christmas, but it may mean they’re still around for the next one.
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