Children may be at higher risk of catching the new mutant coronavirus variant than any previous strain, government advisers said today.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and a member of No10's NERVTAG advisory group, said there was an indication that children who were previously barely affected by the pandemic are more prone to the mutation.
The academic, known as "Professor Lockdown", was instrumental in the UK restrictions in March but stepped down from his advisory role at SAGE after displaying the guidance he implemented when visiting his married lover would have.
He said it was possible that the increase in the new variant called B.1.1.7 could have occurred during the lockdown in November – which took place during school days – as the variant can infect children better than SARS-CoV-2 in the past iterations.
Researchers believe the new strain of the virus, which Matt Hancock said was "out of control," is between 50 and 70 percent more contagious, but don't believe it is more deadly or causes more serious illness in adults or children.
The risk of the fast-spreading coronavirus forced Boris Johnson to cancel Christmas for millions of Britons in the southeast and to plunge much of England into draconian Tier 4 restrictions over the weekend.
The hard curbs are similar to the November national lockdown, forcing stores, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons to close again, with residents being advised not to leave Tier 4 areas.
Concern over the new highly transmissible strain of the virus has fueled speculation that millions of families could be in Tier 4 by Easter. Sir Patrick Vallance indicated tonight that within a few weeks more areas will be caught in the toughest restrictions.
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Children are at a higher risk of contracting the new variant of the coronavirus than the previous strain, government advisors announced today
There isn't enough evidence yet to prove the latest theory that children are more susceptible, Professor Ferguson said, but it's a prominent hypothesis.
He revealed that the number of cases of the new variant in under-15s is statistically significantly higher than that of other strains – but did not reveal exact numbers.
In a virtual media briefing hosted today by the Science Media Center, he said, “There is an indication that it has a higher propensity to infect children. That might explain some of the differences, but we didn't find any causality. & # 39;
Other experts were quick to add that the data are preliminary and no evidence of the cause has yet been found.
SAGE expert warns that the new mutant Covid is likely to become the "dominant global tribe"
The mutant coronavirus, which is rapidly spreading in the UK, is likely to become the dominant global strain, a SAGE scientist warned today when Gibraltar was the sixth place outside the UK to spot a case of the new variant.
Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said the new variant would "outperform all other strains" because it has the evolutionary advantage of being easier to spread.
The strain – called VUI-202012/01 – has already been confirmed in Denmark, Gibraltar, the Netherlands, Australia and Italy. There have also been unconfirmed reports of at least one case in Belgium.
France and South Africa also believe they have cases of the mutation, but these have not been confirmed. French Health Minister Olivier Veran said it was "entirely possible" that the new variant is already circulating in France, although tests have not yet caught it, while officials in South Africa say they have found a strain similar to that of the British version is very similar.
Scotland and Wales have both picked up cases of the strain in the past few weeks, although it is predominantly spreading in London and south-east England, where it accounts for 60 percent of all new infections.
It is now present in all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland, but First Minister Arlene Foster said it was "likely" that the virus is already circulating there as well.
When asked in Sky News whether the mutated coronavirus will be the dominant strain in the world, Professor Semple said, "I suspect it will, or strains like this one.
'Because the virus has the evolutionary advantage of being able to transmit faster, it will outperform all other strains, and of course it will.
"As immunity continues to rise in the community, you will put more pressure on the virus and other variants of other variants are more likely to escape."
The two earliest samples of the mutated virus were collected in Kent on September 20 and in London the next day.
In mid-December there were more than 1,000 cases in nearly 60 different local authorities across England, although the real number will be higher.
They were found predominantly in the south east of England, Kent and London.
By mid-November, 28 percent of cases in London were due to it. And in the week beginning December 9th, it was responsible for 62 percent.
Minutes from the official NERVTAG meeting also show that the new strain increases the crucial R-rate by at least 0.4. If R is above 1, the virus increases. If it is below 1, it will decrease.
Children have far fewer cases than other respiratory illnesses, including flu, throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The leading theory for this relies on how the coronavirus gets into human cells through a receptor called ACE2, which is found in many cells in the upper respiratory tract.
As a result, Professor Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London and a NERVTAG member said this makes adults “easy targets” compared to children.
This is because the amount of ACE2 a person naturally expresses increases steadily over time, with young children having very little.
“I think when it comes to children, we have to be careful what we say. We are not saying that this is a virus that specifically attacks children or that its ability to infect children is more specific, ”she said.
“However, we know that when SARS-CoV-2 emerged as a virus, it was not as effective in infecting children as it was in adults.
'The previous virus had a harder time attaching to ACE2 and getting into cells. Therefore, adults with copious amounts of ACE2 in the nose and throat were easy targets and children were difficult to infect.
“The newer virus has an easier time doing that, so children may be just as susceptible to this virus as adults.
“Given their mixing patterns, one would expect more children to be infected. This is not because the virus is specifically targeted at children, but because it is now less inhibited. & # 39;
Professor Ferguson adds that if this hypothesis turns out to be true, it could explain a "significant portion" of the increase in transmission.
Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons have been ordered to close again in London and much of the Southeast. Residents were instructed not to leave Tier Four.
In the minutes of the Nervtag meeting on December 18, it was stated that the experts were "moderately confident" that the new variant "shows a considerable improvement in transferability compared to other variants".
This has now been upgraded to "high confidence," said Professor Peter Horby, Chairman of Nervtag and Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Oxford University's Center for Tropical Medicine and Global Health.
Today official figures show that the UK's second wave of Covid continues to deteriorate. Health bosses have recorded a further 33,364 cases of the disease.
Health ministry statistics show daily infections increased 64.7 percent in one week, up from today's figure of 20,263 last Monday.
However, the deaths are still stable. The death toll today is 7.3 percent below 232 last week.
Matt Hancock indicated yesterday that even after Christmas, stricter measures will be needed for the rest of the country. He said the disease was now "out of control" and repeated warnings about the Covid mutation which, according to advisors at No10, is behind the rapid spread. "Professor Lockdown" Neil Ferguson claimed the toughest curbs should "possibly" remain until spring, when millions of Britons have received their push.
MailOnline announced today that parts of the nation that have escaped the toughest measures have seen a dramatic increase in positive tests since early December, adding to fears that number 10 will have to take tougher measures after Christmas to keep the new variant of Covid in To take attack.
In Crawley, Sussex, cases have increased almost fivefold since the beginning of the month. The district's infection rate rose from 40.9 positive tests per 100,000 people for the week ending December 1 to 200.2 for the seven-day period that ended December 15.