A New Covid-19 Strain Has Europe Social Distancing from England

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Not even the $900 billion stimulus could overpower headlines from yesterday such as: “U.K. Tightens Rules As A Variant Of The COVID-19 Virus Spreads.”

Sensationalism aside, here is what to know about the new strain of COVID-19 spreading in the UK.

The World Holds Its Breath, Again

We’ll start with the bad. Following Boris Johnson’s announcement the new mutation is believed to be 70% more contagious than other strains, the global response was swift.

A growing list of countries including most of Europe, Canada, Colombia, Israel, Hong Kong, Morocco, India, and others have closed their borders to the UK.

The reaction from the financial markets was equally swift:

  • Airline stocks, fresh off a vaccine bump, were pummeled across the globe with British Airways’ parent company falling 8%.
  • The Pound sterling, which had hit a 2-year high last week, fell roughly 2% against all major currencies.

Compounding Brexit-related trade challenges, British supermarkets warned of food shortages within days if trade relations were not restored.

The (All Important) Nuance

Putting on our science caps for a minute.

The new strain of the virus, which is being called B.1.1.7, was first detected in mid-October by the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The samples collected were actually collected on September 20th and 21st, meaning B.1.1.7 has been circulating for months.

The variant has also been identified in Denmark (nine cases), Australia (two) and Italy, the Netherlands and Iceland (one each). But the UK is one of only a few countries actively sequencing Covid-19 to detect variants – and many scientists believe B.1.1.7 is already much more widespread.

Not At Consensus: Certain biologic realities of the mutations seen in B.1.1.7 suggest it could be more transmissible. But leading scientists in Berlin and at Georgetown University caution that other mutations (like B.1.1.77) were thought and turned out not to be.

Extra Good: Scientists are cautiously optimistic that efficacy will not be immediately impacted by early mutations including B.1.1.7. Vaccines induce a so-called polyclonal response to different parts of the surface proteins..