How worrying is the new British COVID strain?

Reuters has posted a good explainer on the new COVID strain sweeping through Britain, which has prompted some neighbouring European nations to shut trade links to prevent transmission.

The Cliff Notes summary is that this strain is far more infectious than other strains, but not more lethal. Vaccines are also thought to protect against this new strain.


Most scientists say yes. The new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain in cases of COVID-19 in parts of southern England, and has been linked to an increase in hospitalization rates, especially in London and in the adjacent county of Kent.

While it was first seen in Britain in September, by the week of Dec. 9 in London, 62% of COVID-19 cases were due to the new variant. That compared to 28% of cases three weeks earlier…


The main worry is that the variant is significantly more transmissible than the original strain. It has 23 mutations in its genetic code – a relatively high number of changes – and some of these are affecting its ability to spread.

Scientists say it is about 40%-70% more transmissible. The UK government said on Saturday it could increase the reproduction “R” rate by 0.4.

This means it is spreading faster in Britain, making the pandemic there yet harder to control and increasing the risk it will also spread swiftly in other countries…


Scientists say there’s no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed in the UK – made by Pfizer and BioNtech – or other COVID-19 shots in development will not protect against this variant…


To some extent, yes.

One of the mutations in the new variant affects one of three genomic targets used by some PCR tests. This means that in those tests, that target area, or “channel”, would come up negative…

Spare a thought for residents of the UK which have again been thrown into hard lockdown and face a miserable Christmas.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. The new variant apparently is differentiated by the the spike protein and although unlikely it may affect the efficacy of the vaccine-the answer is they simply don’t know

    • You always have to beware of initial claims. The Oxford vaccine was suppose to be ~90% effective, without the storage issues and therefore a bigger breakthrough. Its now estimated to be only 60% effective, and not really suitable for anyone over the age of 55(i.e. <50% effective). The testing regimes very short – and these things mutate all the time.

      Test and trace is an expensive joke – and doesn't work. It has to be a vaccine for everyone, maybe every two of three years.

  2. Definitely feel for them, and as a resident of Melbourne’s outer west, COVID central for 3 long months, I can sympathise.
    Especially with the new improved(!) contagion, now extra hard to keep it from the vulnerable, so the only response to this one is a long lock down through the winter to stop it in its tracks.
    If not, it would seem that by the time we get to our winter, this new variant will be the main one looking to test our totally leak proof hotel quarantine defences. By then some folk might have got the vaccine but I doubt all.

    • makes one wonder if this was part of the reason why the UoQ vaccine was cancelled so suddenly.
      Sure they say it had these false HIV positives but it was also a vaccine created by clamping the spike protein between two sections of fixed HIV virus fragments. Their aim was to directly target the spike protein yet low and behold it looks like the spike is the part of the Covid Virus which is changing…sounds like the UoQ vaccine would be the most likely vaccine candidate to be ineffective against this new British strain.
      Any thoughts anyone

  3. The virus has mutated many times since the original, this is simply one more iteration. The only reason the fear factor is being ramped up by the Govt and media is to manipulate people into accepting the vaccine.

    • ^ This!
      Our esteemed scientists responsible for finding a workable vaccine are playing chess with a superior opponent who has until now,always won.
      There are ‘other’ reasons why the soon to be ‘mandatory’ vaccine will be required. (supervision, control, privacy invasion).
      This is getting very frightening!

    • Yes, just another mutation. I’d like to know how they worked out it was 70% faster spreading given it would be very hard to separate the effects of the changing environment & social distancing effects etc to the actual changed ability of the virus to infect.

    • I agree the whole hype about vaccines is ridiculous and has vastly more to do with pharmaceutical company profits than it does from public risk of dying. What is really strange is that there have been a number of very good reviews on influenza vaccines done recently. The results were not encouraging, here is a link to a recent meta-analysis by the Cochrane collaboration that is very good. They analysed 52 clinical trials encompassing over 80,000 adults and the conclusion was “We did not find any evidence of an association between influenza vaccination and serious adverse events in the comparative studies considered in this review”. Or to put it another way there is no evidence influenza vaccines have any effect on the rate of hospitalisations or deaths from influenza.

  4. Mr SquiggleMEMBER

    Thanks MB! This is the first time I’ve seen the question raised over any impact from the new strains on testing for COVID. Everyone is obsessed with vaccines at the moment, but it looks like the new strain will rollout faster than any of the vaccines

  5. SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

    new British variant makes you whinge more about the symptoms, causes yellowing of the teeth and an appreciation of warm beer


  6. I wonder if Horrible Histories will do an episode on this. If they do I’m not sure if they’ll concentrate on the virus or the conspiracy theories on world control that go with it!

    From what I’ve read and heard on the radio (ABC) the experts here had said there was presently no evidence that this strain was more infectious, that this thinking was more based on increased numbers which there were plenty of others reason to explain, also that the vaccines tackle the virus in a number of ways and that so far they thought the vaccine would still be fit for purpose.

    • I don’t recall a statement about it being “less fatal”….though I may have missed something. Just not “more fatal”.

      How about you do a variation of those heroic “storm-chasers”, and get into proximity with every identified strain of Covid-19 to demonstrate how harmless they all are?

      Now that’s a reality TV show that would be compulsive viewing for me……

    • With any luck case numbers will spike tomorrow in NSW and we can go back to dire predictions of impending catastrophe.

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      50 countries have closed their borders to the U.K., but KK & NSW Health have got it all under control in quarantine.

  7. “”The pandemic was clearly not Johnson’s fault, but his response to it has been lamentable. Pathologically averse to taking hard or unpopular decisions, and with a cabinet of featherweights unable or unwilling to impose discipline on him, our recklessly cavalier Prime Minister has been playing catch-up from the outset.

    He imposed the first lockdown far too late in March, mocking the “bizarre autarkic rhetoric” of those calling for tough measures against the looming threat. He failed to prepare for a second wave during the summer lull, urging us instead to eat out and return to offices. He scorned Keir Starmer’s call for a “circuit breaker” shutdown to forestall the second wave in October, saying it would be a “disaster”, only to reverse his position a wasted fortnight later.

    Now, incredibly, Johnson has done the exact same thing again.””

  8. I wonder how many climate change deniers are going to take the vaccine?
    On one hand they do not believe the scientists saying we need to act on climate change but are happy to accept a vaccine developed by scientists?

    • Tough to say. I don’t get the term climate change deniers, really the farmers I know all agree that the climate changes, they say it’s cyclical, some have family memories of terrible drought going way back in the 1800s in Aus. They remember or it’s in the weather diary on the farm of the really hot days back in the mid 1900s, And they know, quietly when BOM changes the overnight low of negative 9.8 C to neg 9.0 so it’s not a record low in Goulburn. They know exactly and track with their own weather stations on the farms. You! drFixit I fear are using the trademarked term for globalWarmingNowbypeople.
      Even 5 year olds know the climate was different when their dinosaur toys were flesh and blood.
      if indeed the Pfizer vaccine does give autoimmunity to spike proteins found in mammalian placentas, you put that together with your trademarked deniers of climate change everyone knows about from a young age. Odd.

      • So glo, your farmer friends have stevenson screens on their farms? Didn’t realise the meteorologists were also involved in the CC conspiracy…thanks for the info, I’ll remember to pass that on at the next Anti World Gov meeting.

        • Dennis lol. Temperature measurement max and min and rainfall is not rocket science. Real forecasts from The long View are banned by the ABC. because they don’t conform to the city slicker world view. Triggered eh?

          • lololol That’s right it isn’t rocket science, but having the right equipment matters. Do they use a stevenson screen? I guess not so their temp will not be the same as it will be affected by a number of environmental impacts, are they taking the temp at the same place as the BoM in Gouldburn? Didn’t think so again.

            I’d have to say it’s real sad-thinking that everyone at the BoM is part of your conspiracy.

  9. The reports of how patient zero of the new variant developed this is worrying. Apparently he was sick in hospital for months with Covid and they kept giving him antibody cocktails until the virus developed these changes from the challenges made to it by this plethora of antibodies in a closed system.

    This has to have implications for the rushed program of vaccines which all act on similar principles and are being injected now without follow-up in a grand manner and no surety of stopping infections from every individual human virus factory.

    • It was highly likely this coronavirus would eventually throw up mutagenic variations that could either result in more benign or more malign outcomes. It has had a vast test-ground to develop in due to vapid responses from populist leaders. The capacity for mutation to produce something quite terrible, with wildly different spectra of both virulence and patient profile is always overlooked by the letterip crowd.

      It has been a year already. I reasonably suspect we are not even one-third of the way through this episode.

  10. I predict not very worrying. More like alarmist claptrap. In a situation of non-uniform diffusion dynamics you would expect to see that certain strains (just random variant mutations at certain sites) would “dominate” over others. This has little to do with genetic aspects and a lot to do with the Markovian dynamics of that particular strains traversals including encountering superspreaders early in its evolution, causing its transmission to amplify relative to other traversals by different strains.