UK coronavirus variant is taking over UK amid warnings it's 'travelling around the world'

·4-min read
COVID cases per million people across Europe. The darker the red the more cases there are. (Our World in Data)
COVID cases per million people across Europe. The darker the red the more cases there are. (Our World in Data)

The coronavirus variant that originated in Kent is spreading across the world and is at risk of becoming the dominant strain in several countries, a top scientist has said.

The variant which is believed to have originated in Kent in September last year has already taken over in the UK and is responsible for 98% of new cases.

The strain, known scientifically as B.1.1.7, has spread to about 100 countries, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, and some of those, including France, Denmark and the United States, have reported swift rises in the proportion of their COVID-19 cases being caused by it.

Sharon Peacock said evidence from the UK suggests B.1.1.7. is likely to become dominant elsewhere too.

She said: "Because of its transmissibility, once it's introduced, it does have that advantage over other circulating variants - so it is the case that B.1.1.7 appears to be travelling around the world and really expanding where it lands."

Peacock, head of COVID-19 Genomics UK, added: "It's around 50% more transmissible - hence its success in really taking over the country."

"We now know that it has spread across the UK and causes nearly all of the cases of COVID-19 - about 98%," she told an online briefing for Britain's Royal Society of Medicine.

Watch: COVID variant is much deadlier: study

She added the dominance of the strain appears to be stopping other variants from "getting a foothold in this country."

The WHO says B.1.1.7 is one of several "variants of concern," along with others that have emerged in South Africa and Brazil.

How is the variant affecting different countries?

Governments across the world are fearful the Kent variant will become dominant in their countries.

It has been detected in most states in the US.

In a report published in January, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the variant could become the dominant strain.

Top doctor Anthony Fauci warned the findings were "concerning."

In February Denmark registered the Kent variant in 45% of their positive results in one week.

Authorities in Cyprus said on Thursday more than a quarter of COVID-19 cases in their country were now the Kent variant.

Read more: The 9 countries that gobbled up three quarters of the world's vaccines

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people on 10 March. (Our World in Data)
Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people on 10 March. (Our World in Data)

Norway is considering tightening Covid-19 restrictions after a spike in cases which is being in part attributed to the Kent variant.

The variant is now the dominant strain in the capital Oslo.

Germany's top infectious diseases expert warned on Thursday the country was facing a third wave as the number of infections has soared.

The Kent variant now accounts for 46% of the total new infections in the country.

Last month hospitals in the Czech Republic struggled to cope with a surge in new arrivals as COVID rapidly spread across the country again.

Data from January showed between 45% and 60% of new patients were infected with the Kent variant.

Cases have been rising across Europe in recent days while they have been slowly decreasing in the UK.

Read more: England hits important milestone as less than 1% of people catch COVID in every region

The number of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in several European countries. (Our World in Data)
The number of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in several European countries. (Our World in Data)

According to Our World in Data Poland and France both had more than 450 cases per million people on 10 March.

Italy had 368, Spain had 287 and Germany had 250.

The UK currently has 88 per million people.

Is the variant more deadly?

The B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in September 2020, has 23 mutations in its genetic code - a relatively high number of changes - and is thought by experts to be 40%-70% more transmissible than previously dominant variants.

Peacock also noted data released on Wednesday which found that B.1.1.7 has "significantly higher" mortality, with death rates among those infected with it between 30% and 100% greater than among those infected with previous variants.

"There is a small increase in the likelihood of death from the variant," she said.

Epidemiologists from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol said the data suggests the variant is associated with a significantly higher mortality rate among adults diagnosed in the community compared with previously circulating strains.

Researchers looked at death rates among people infected with the new variant and those infected with other strains.

They found that the variant first detected in Kent led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients – compared with 141 among the same number of closely matched patients who had the previous strains.

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