A new coronavirus variant may derail pandemic-control efforts

A new coronavirus variant may derail pandemic-control efforts

More transmissible than other strains, it may require stricter lockdowns


VIRUSES ARE the fashionistas of the microbe world. They change their appearance constantly but such changes are usually small, transient and of little practical significance for how they spread or how deadly they are. SARS-CoV-2, the covid-19 virus, has so far been no exception. But a new variant of it that is spreading rapidly in Britain appears to buck the trend. According to researchers advising the British government, it may be 40-70% more transmissible than the other variants in circulation. Britain has alerted the World Health Organisation about this variant, provisionally called VUI 202012/01 (short for the first “variant under investigation” in December 2020).

The authorities are rushing to limit its spread. Swathes of Britain where VUI 202012/01 is most prevalent, including London, went into lockdown in the early hours of December 20th. By the evening, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy had banned flights from Britain. Other countries are sure to follow suit. The port of Dover was closed to outbound lorries and ferry passengers after France closed its border for 48 hours on the evening of the 20th.