Allyson Black, a U.S. Air Force nurse, cares for Covid-19 patients in a makeshift intensive care unit at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California on January 21, 2021.
Mario Tama | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON – Health experts warn that, despite restrictions, the US is likely to struggle to contain the spread of a highly infectious variant of coronavirus, underscoring the importance of immediately taking aggressive action to protect as many people as possible.
The variant discovered in Great Britain and known as B.1.1.7 has an unusually high number of mutations and is associated with more efficient and faster transmission.
There is no evidence that the mutant strain is associated with more severe disease outcomes. However, because it is more communicable, more people are likely to be infected, which can lead to higher numbers of serious cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Scientists first discovered this mutation in September. The worrying variant has since been detected in at least 44 countries, including the US, which has reported its presence in 12 states.
Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the US variant's modeled trajectory "is growing rapidly in early 2021 and will become the predominant variant in March".
The forecast comes from the fact that the UK is struggling to control the effects of its exponential growth.
How is the situation in the UK?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures in England on January 5th, ordering people to "stay home" as most schools, bars and restaurants had to close. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have implemented similar measures.
The restrictions, which are expected to remain in place in England through at least mid-February, were put in place to ease the burden on already stressed hospitals in the country amid the surge in Covid admissions.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.
Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images
Government figures released on Thursday said the UK recorded 37,892 new infections with 1,290 deaths. A day earlier, the UK had a record high in Covid deaths when data showed an additional 1,820 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test.
Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, pointed out that the UK response shows that unless aggressive action is taken immediately, the variant will spread rapidly geographically and be more common in places where it occurs established in the community. "
Gurdasani cited results of a closely watched study conducted by researchers at Imperial College London that showed "no signs of a decrease" in Covid rates between January 6-15, despite England being locked, "suggesting that even with restrictions it is difficult to contain this effectively due to the higher transferability. "
Researchers in the study, published Thursday, warned that if the prevalence of the virus in the community were not significantly reduced, the UK healthcare system would remain under "extreme pressure" and the cumulative number of deaths would rise rapidly.
"All of this means the window for containment is very short. Given the lower level of active surveillance in the US, the variant may have spread more than expected and containment policies must reflect this," Gurdasani said.
"This means strict containment efforts not just where the variant has been identified, but in all regions where it could have spread. And active surveillance with contact tracing to identify all possible cases, while maintaining strict restrictions to chains of transmission interrupt. "
Patients arrive in ambulances at the Royal London Hospital in London on January 5, 2021. The British Prime Minister made a national televised address on Monday evening, announcing that England would take action against the Covid-19 pandemic for the third time. This week, the UK recorded more than 50,000 new confirmed Covid cases for the seventh straight day.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
To date, the UK has had the fifth highest number of confirmed Covid infections and related deaths in the world.
What measures should be considered in the US?
On his second day in office, President Joe Biden announced comprehensive measures to combat the virus, including the establishment of a Covid testing committee to improve testing, address supply shortages and provide direct funding to hard-hit minority communities.
Biden said the executive orders said, "Help is on the way." He also warned it would take months "to reverse this".
"The key to all of this is reducing human interactions, and the strategy must be broadly the same as it was before, what worked elsewhere, and more," said Simon Clarke, Associate Professor of Cell Microbiology at the University of Reading.
Sister Dawn Duran delivers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Jeremy Coran during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on January 12, 2021 in Pasadena, California, United States.
Mario Anzuoni | Reuters
Clarke said the U.S. states, for example, must consider reducing the number of people in retail or recreational settings, and may need to close bars or limit their opening hours, as studies show that the risk of transmission is higher indoors is.
"None of these things we do to protect ourselves eliminate the risk, none of them make us Covid safe – all it does is reduce the chances of getting infected," said Clarke.
"The virus has just pushed this back with this evolutionary step, and it will now be even more difficult to achieve the same level of protection."
Run vaccines as soon as possible.
"Everyone wants to believe that vaccines are the solution and they will make a huge difference, but it's not the whole solution," said Kit Yates, professor of mathematical biology at the University of Bath and author of "The Math" of Life and death. "
Yates said the new US administration should do everything possible to introduce Covid vaccines "as soon as possible" to ease pressure on healthcare facilities, but insisted that this should be part of a multi-tiered approach.
Some other measures U.S. states should consider, according to Yates, include encouraging people to work from home wherever possible, maintaining physical distance, improving ventilation at school, wearing masks for children, financial support for self-isolators, and the use of effective tests and trace protocols.
"These are the boring, awful, non-pharmaceutical measures that nobody wants, but the alternative is just too scary to think about."