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New COVID-19 Variant causes rise in cases in UK and Overseas
A new variant of COVID was always to be expected, but it seems that governments were not prepared for such a rapid rate of infection.
By Jack Garrard
31th December 2020 14:00 GMT
After the new COVID-19 variant which can be up to 70% more transmittable was discovered in the UK on the 22nd, the UK’s restrictions have taken a sharp turn towards lockdown, with the introduction of the new tier 4 last week. These new restrictions don’t seem to have worked, as Britain reported a record 41,385 new cases on Monday. Although these new cases are likely a result of the relaxed festive-period restrictions, it still does not bode well for Britain in the long run. Andrew Hayward, a leading epidemiologist, warned no.10 on Tuesday that they were heading for a ‘catastrophe’ if it didn’t take affirmative action in the coming weeks.
Almost half the population are now in tier 4 and whilst this should see a severe drop in rate of new cases, many still believe that a full lockdown, similar to that currently in Denmark, is the best and only way to get the R rate below 1. This makes even more sense considering the number of people that left the tier 4 areas just a couple days before the restrictions were put in place.
Matt Hancock will give an update on the coronavirus restrictions today, in a conference which will lay out any changes to the tier of any areas and a possible change to the staggered school returns. Currently, GCSE and A-Level students would return to school immediately after the Christmas holiday, alongside the children of any key-workers, but this is open to change. ‘We’ll be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24, 48 hours just to make sure that our plans… are really robust, ’ Michael Gove told Times Radio on Monday. The PM yesterday approved placing further swathes into tier 4, most likely parts of the South West and Cumbria, where the new variant has been spreading.
Even the Premier League has been hit by the higher infection rates, with 18 confirmed cases yesterday, a new record, creating questions over postponements, after the match between Manchester City and Everton was postponed, and new outbreaks were found at Sheffield United and Manchester United. Wensley Tensel, a doctor at League One side Rochdale, told the bbc yesterday that he was surprised to see games still being played. ‘We’ve got these tier four places where people can’t travel but footballers can go in and out and take things back to their family,’ he said. ‘I think it’s probably not the wisest thing at the moment.’
But this new variant is, of course, not just affecting Britain. When the UK Government sent its findings to the WHO and announced them on television, many countries imposed travel bans to and from Britain. Whilst the WHO applauded them for their transparency, this move was not without financial implications, as thousands of lorries queued up in Dover waiting to get into France, after the restrictions put in place by the French government.
But the new variant has still made it overseas, with cases already in Australia, Italy, Iceland, the Netherlands and the lockdowned Denmark. The first case was found in the US yesterday, which came as a senior public health official said that other countries need to be treated the same as Britain in the fight against this variant. The US had required passengers arriving from the UK to have tested negative within 72 hours of departure, but Brett Giroir, US Assistant Secretary for Health, believes this ‘should probably be extended to other countries.’
France, who also have cases of the new variant, have announced that there will be no lockdown for the time being. ‘We’re ruling out the idea of a lockdown for now, whether it be nationally or locally,’ Olivier Veran said on French TV, but they will extend the curfew from 8pm to 6pm in certain areas. This is despite 11,395 new cases, the first above 10,000 in the past 4 days.
Whatever restrictions have worked in the past will not be as effective with the new variant. 70% increased infection rates make a huge difference. Governments must find the balance between short term case reduction and long term vaccine roll-outs, and it is a delicate one. President-Elect Biden has already promised 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his presidency, but has made no such promise on increased restrictions and subsequent decrease in cases.
Britain approved the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on the 30th of December, the first country in the world to do so, despite questions about the legitimacy of its trail data, including data which shows it to be less effective than the Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine. It seems that vaccines are now the big deal, as people look toward the light at the end of the tunnel, and focus less on the the darkness they are in right now.
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