The situation across the UK, particularly England and Wales, is rapidly worsening. Evidence is now strong that the new variant of Covid-19 (B117) is significantly more infectious than previous strains. This is making a bad situation worse. Cases in all tiers are rising, even where the variant is still rare. As Matt Hancock announced on 23 December, Tiers 1-3 are not able to contain spread of the new variant.
Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, confirmed that the new variant is also present across the UK and its dominance is spreading outwards rapidly from the South East across England. Modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that the new variant will account for 90% of new cases by mid-January. Christmas Day mixing of households indoors for prolonged periods of time, as allowed in tiers 1 to 3 in England and across the devolved nations, sets the scene for thousands of super-spreading events. In the context of the new strain, this is incredibly dangerous.
We believe that the government must immediately:
- Rescind a relaxation of the rules and ban household mixing on Christmas Day (apart from exemptions and pre-existing bubbles)
- Place all regions of England in Tier 4 to suppress spread of the virus as far as possible while scientists continue to learn more about the new variant. The devolved nations should bring forward their own national lockdowns from Boxing Day to 24th December. Tier 4 should include enhanced travel restrictions.
- Put in place an emergency plan to enable safe education in January and February.
- Focus all efforts on mass roll-out of vaccination.
The inability to control COVID-19 is leading to the emergence of variants with increasing transmission potential. The new variant and the potential emergence of others requires a complete rethink of all mitigation strategies. Independent SAGE will release a more detailed plan for control and suppression of the new variant over the weekend.