By Hanie Abdul Razak
A new variant of the coronavirus is believed to be the cause of a very sharp spike in infections, the UK government said in Parliament on Monday. As a result, London and three parts of surrounding counties are set to go into Tier-3 restrictions from Wednesday onwards.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that over 1000 cases of the new variant have been identified, predominantly in the south of England. He also called for the swift and decisive action of containing this new variant, as the multiplying of cases was reaching worrying levels.
The Health Secretary also allayed concerns by saying that it was not likely that the new variant would affect the efficacy of the vaccine.
Tier-3 restrictions would involve the closing of hospitality venues like pubs, restaurants and in the entertainment sector like theatres, etc. People from different households will also be not allowed to mingle indoors. However, up to six people can congregate outdoors. Shops and schools may also remain open.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the move incredibly disappointing for business but conceded the necessity of going into a near-lockdown state again.
Sky News’ science correspondent Thomas Moore has also said that the virus mutating is something that is extremely common and that as a virus adapts to the human body, it actually presents milder symptoms, as in the case of the common cold.
What is worrying about a potential mutation of coronavirus is a mutation of the spike protein, a protein that covers the novel coronavirus. The Pfizer vaccine works by producing this spike protein in the body and the immune system responds to it as a foreign material.
Epidemiology chair in the faculty of health at Melbourne’s Deakin University, Catherine Bennett told Sky News that, “If the virus changes substantially, particularly the spike proteins, then it might escape a vaccine. We want to slow transmission globally to slow the clock.”