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With Covid mutating, it's clearer than ever why we must eliminate this virus

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An emotional rollercoaster is probably the best way to describe the past few weeks. The UK government has lurched from allowing Christmas bubbles to cancelling Christmas altogether. Weeks after an effective vaccine was approved, the virus turned a new corner. Some have argued the new mutation is nothing to worry about – viruses mutate all the time. Others think it’s cause for panic. The truth lies somewhere in between.

With limited information available about the new variant, the lesson from 2020 is to move early and enforce precautions rather than wait for things to unfold. When the government delayed a lockdown in the spring that would have reduced the death rate, Britain learned the hard way that it’s better to prevent an emerging disaster than to wait and watch. As Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, put it: if you see a train speeding towards you, do you wait to see if you get hit, or quickly react to avert the crash?

Scientists are concerned about three aspects of this variant in particular. First, does it spread faster, therefore making suppression harder? According to Nervtag (the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group), the Covid variant that seems to have emerged in the south-east of England is up to 70% more transmissible. There’s also a concern that this variant spreads more easily among children (although there is no hard evidence for this). Until now, younger children haven’t transmitted to the same extent as older children and adults; if their infectivity increases as a result of the variant, there will be a new set of challenges about how to safely reopen schools in the new year.


© The Guardian

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