A scientist has said that the new coronavirus variant should be treated as a “new pandemic within a pandemic”.
Dr Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘The early signals we see suggest that there is probably less movement in the population than there was in November, but perhaps a little more than there was in April, and that is of course concerning, because, with this new variant, essentially every interaction we have has become riskier than before. “
The Sage member added: “Even if we went back to that last spring level of reduction in contacts, we could not trust that we would see the same effects as we saw last year due to the increased transfer.
“To some extent, we can think of this as a new pandemic within a pandemic.
“From the data that comes out, this is a very serious threat and new data from PHE (Public Health England) that came out yesterday suggested that that risk per contact is probably 40-50% higher than it was.
“So both for the UK, and also for many other countries, we need to move away from this idea that we will see a repeat of what happened last spring with our behavior and really have the possibility that this is much riskier and we will be much harder must work to reduce the impact. “
His remarks come after Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, said the current lockdown was “too lax”.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “If you look at the data, it shows that almost 90% of people are overwhelmed by the rules, despite the fact that we are also more people look and over.
‘I think one of the explanations for that is that this is actually quite a lax lock, because we still have a lot of domestic contact, people go in and out of each other’s houses.
“If you are a major nurse, a non-essential trader, a family with children, you have massive meetings in terms of religious events, nurseries are open and, really important, you have this broad definition of critical workers, that we have 30 -50% of (school) classes are full at the moment and that’s why you have very busy public transport with people going to and from all these things. “
She added: “It’s definitely too lax, because if you think about it and compare us to March, what do we have now?
“We have the winter season and the virus survives longer in the cold, plus people spend more time indoors and we know that aerosol transport, which happens indoors, is a very large source of transmission for this virus.
“And secondly, we have this new variant which is 50-70% more contagious. You put those two things together, besides the fact that the NHS was in crisis, we should have a stricter instead of less strict protection than we had back in March. “
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in mid-December that experts had identified a new variant of coronavirus that he said may have been responsible for the “rapid spread” in south-east England.
The ONS, which provides figures for infections in private households, said that 81% of the positive cases in London from 28 December to 2 January were estimated to be genetically compatible with the new variant, while in Eastern England the estimate 78 % is.
Two other regions with estimates above 50% were South East England (67%) and South West England (53%).
The estimated percentage of positive cases compatible with the new variant was 33% for Northern Ireland, 22% for Scotland and 5% for Wales.
Sage said on Friday that the reproduction number, as an R-value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is between 1 and 1.4.
This means that on average every 10 people with the virus infect between 10 and 14 other people.
Sage said the latest estimates represent the transfer of Covid-19 over the past few weeks instead of the current situation and that it does not take into account the impact of recent policy changes, such as the closure in England.