The more virulent variant of coronavirus first identified in Kent will become the world’s dominant strain of the virus, according to the the director of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme.
The Kent variant is now the most common form of the virus in the UK, after it was first detected in September. It has been cited as the reason for the introduction of new lockdown rules across the UK in January after causing a massive surge in coronavirus cases.
It has now spread to more than 50 countries around the globe.
“It’s going to sweep the world, in all probability”, said Professor Sharon Peacock from the Covid-19 Genomics UK (Cog-UK) Consortium.
Peacock told the BBC her work sequencing variants of the virus could be required for at least a further 10 years.
“Once we get on top of it [Covid-19] or it mutates itself out of being virulent — causing disease — then we can stop worrying about it,”she said.
“But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.”
Available vaccines were designed to target earlier variants of coronavirus, although scientists are confident they will still provide some protection against new variants.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told last night’s Downing Street press conference that the most vulnerable members of the population will likely need booster jabs especially suited to Covid mutations “every year”.
“I think we need to be getting ready for a world in which we do have booster jabs against new variants in the autumn and maybe beyond. We should start to think about it as a flu jab — as something elderly and vulnerable people make sure they have every year,” he said.
The government last week announced it had ordered 50m doses of a new Covid vaccine being developed by German biotech firm CureVac that will target emerging coronavirus mutations.
Surge testing was rolled out in the London borough of Lambeth earlier this week, after new cases of “variants of concern” are thought to have spread to the capital. Residents in the south London borough will join Ealing, Haringey and Croydon in receiving door knocks asking them to take Covid tests for the new variants.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer last week said the UK’s “immediate threat” remained the Kent Covid strain, as he attempted to allay fears about a new South African variant.
He added that there was no evidence to suggest the South African variant was more transmissible than other strains, “meaning there is no reason to think it will catch up or overtake” our current variant.