The spread of the new coronavirus in the United Kingdom has reached a new peak in recent hours and the fault seems to be precisely the English variant of the virus. Ten months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and after weeks of more or less severe restrictive measures depending on the areas of the country, today 1 January 2021 have been registered 53,285 new cases of COVID, a number never reached by the United Kingdom even during what was considered the peak a few days ago: 25,308 new cases on 17 November last.
Most of the new cases, and of people currently positive for COVID-19, are in England, where special measures have been in place for weeks now that are not valid for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The increase in cases, as also happened in Italy, also corresponds to the growth of patients who need hospitalization and of the most serious patients who end up in intensive care, as well as the number of deaths.
The blame for this rapid resumption of infections after the decline recorded in early December – 14,507 new cases were ascertained on 4 December – seems to be the so-called English variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, capable of spreading faster than the previous variant of the virus and, the confirmation has arrived in these hours, of spreading in a particular way among the Under 20s.
English variant affects the youngest. The confirmation of the experts
The rumors spread a few weeks ago were followed in these hours by the first confirmations: the English variant of the virus, the one identified in different areas of England, spreads more rapidly and particularly affects children and young people under the age of 20, who still do not show symptoms despite being carriers of the infection.
The confirmation comes from a preliminary study conducted in England by a team of experts from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Birmingham with the support of the British consortium that has been working on the genomics of COVID-19.
The experts, after days of studies and in-depth analyzes on the mutation of the virus renamed B.1.1.7, have come to a preliminary conclusion that the reproduction rate of the English variant can be 1.4 / 1.8 times higher than to the most widespread and known variant to date.
What is worrying, however, is not only the ability of the virus to spread more rapidly, but also the fact that, on the basis of the data that emerged, it would seem to affect children and young people under the age of 20 in a particular way. These are preliminary data yet to be confirmed by further studies and analyzes and scientists do not yet exclude that the greater diffusion is linked to the measures in place:
The spread of the new variant could have coincided with the lockdown period in which the schools remained open.
Simplifying: young people go to school and become infected with the new variant of the virus, then they return home and also infect family members. Coincidence or not, experts warn against the resumption of school after the Christmas closing period. If the new variant doesn’t specifically target young people, it will target anyone who is around and in contact with other people. This means that if the schools reopen as scheduled, what already happened before the Christmas holiday could happen, with the infection spread at school and then brought home by young students.
The anti-COVID measures in force in England
For weeks now, England has introduced a risk classification system for the COVID-19 epidemic similar to the Italian one, with four alert levels – initially there were only three, but when the situation turned out to be more dramatic than expected it was a fourth was introduced – with corresponding restrictive measures.
- Level 1: medium alert
- Level 2: high alert
- Level 3: very high alert
- Level 4: stay home
As at 31 December, confirming how serious the situation is despite weeks of closures and limitations, England is divided into two large areas. Most of the country is in level 4, the current maximum, and the remaining areas have level 3 restrictions in place. No areas are rated at level 2, while the Isles of Scilly are at level 1.
Level 4 is the closest thing to a total lockdown. Citizens must stay at home with very few exceptions: work and volunteer reasons, essential activities, education and to meet the people who are part of their “support bubble”, a network of contacts that can include up to a maximum of 2 nuclei family members. Schools remain open, with the exception of Christmas holidays and holidays, as well as most of the shops, but in these hours, given the worsening of the situation, we are discussing introducing a new level, a real lockdown for those areas where the virus seems out of control.