A doomsday new Covid variant that could kill up to one in three people is a ‘realistic possibility’, according to the Government’s top scientists.
Documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) today warned a future strain could be as deadly as MERS — which has a case fatality rate of 35 per cent — could be on the way.
No10’s expert panel claimed the likelihood of the virus mutating is highest when it is most prevalent — as is currently the case in Britain.
And in a downside of Britain’s hugely successful vaccination drive, the team warned the country’s greater levels of immunity may help speed up the virus’s evolutionary process.
Rolling out booster vaccines this winter and curbing transmission may help prevent a mutant strain occurring, according to the paper.
It also said ministers may have to consider culling or vaccinating animals which are found to be harbouring the virus, in order to stop it potentially picking up another mutation and jumping back to humans.
However, the SAGE report also claimed it was equally realistic that Covid will mutate to become less lethal over time.
A doomsday new Covid variant that could kill one in three people is a ‘realistic possibility’, according to the Government’s top scientists
Why the Delta Covid variant ISN’T really spreading as quickly as chickenpox
Top scientists today claimed the Indian ‘Delta’ variant is not spreading as quickly as chickenpox, despite US health officials saying it is just as contagious.
Data circulating within America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed people infected with the mutant strain can go on to infect eight others.
The same internal document also alleged that fully-vaccinated people can spread the Indian variant just as easily as unvaccinated people because they carry a similar amount of the virus in their nose and mouth.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, insisted the agency was ‘not crying wolf’, saying the situation was ‘serious’ and that the measures needed to tackle the spread of Delta were ‘extreme’.
But British scientists have questioned some of the claims made by the department, which has urged Americans to keep their coverings on indoors regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
Professor David Livermore, an infectious diseases expert from the University of East Anglia, said vaccine-triggered immunity and the endless waves of Covid which nations have endured meant there were fewer susceptible people around for people to infect.
‘The US, like the UK, has substantial immunity from prior infection and from vaccination,’ he told MailOnline. ‘This will surely be a major drag on Delta’s spread, precluding (viral spread) numbers of that magnitude.’
And Professor Julian Tang, a virologist at Leicester University, said the theory was likely just ‘speculation’ because it was very difficult to track down the number of cases sparked by a single infection.
UK FACES A ‘RISKY’ AUTUMN BECAUSE FOREIGN HOLIDAYS AND RETURN OF STUDENTS
A document dated July 14 stated the importance of global surveillance on the emergence of new variants and added: ‘Any increase in foreign travel over the summer and the return of international students to universities in the autumn is of particular concern.’
In the same document from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O), experts warned that September and October ‘will be a particularly risky point in the trajectory of the epidemic’.
It states that ‘significant pressures on healthcare could be seen’ if more normal behaviours, following the lifting of many restrictions, coincide with the return of schools and universities.
Scientists unveiled the threat of a super mutant variant in a paper that looked at potential scenarios that could emerge in the not-so-distant future.
Experts — who weren’t named — said a future strain may be resistant to vaccines if it came about by the jab-resistant Beta variant merging with the more transmissible Alpha or Delta variants.
The process — known as recombination — could lead to a strain with ‘increased morbidity and mortality’.
The team admitted vaccines should work unless there was an extra-potent mutation that rendered jabs much less effective at blocking serious disease — which many experts say is unlikely.
But they said the extra lethality would be expected ‘even in the face of vaccination since vaccines do not provide absolute sterilising immunity.’
The prospect of a deadlier variant is a ‘realistic possibility’ and would have a huge impact on the UK’s death toll moving forward, the scientists said.
Politicians have warned the damning report shows the Government ‘must not be complacent’ as Britain appears to be coming out its current third wave of the pandemic.
Dr Philippa Whitford, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: ‘This report, which should have sent shock waves through the UK Government, was instead quietly snuck out among a glut of reports during parliamentary recess.
‘Recommendations and comments made by SAGE bring home the simple reality — that we have not yet “defeated” this virus.
‘The UK only donated its first vaccine doses internationally this week and, unless there is a rapid increase in global production, through sharing knowledge and technology, it simply will not be possible to vaccinate the world and bring the pandemic to an end.
‘Without stricter border control measures we risk importing vaccine-resistant variants while uncontrolled spread here could lead to yet another UK variant.’
The Scottish National Party MP: ‘The government mustn’t stick its head in the sand or it will run the risk of un-doing the progress we have made over the past eighteen months.’
Professor Martin McKee, an expert in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘These stark words from the Government’s own advisors underlines what many of us have been warning about and confirms there are still obstacles to overcome.
‘The government can’t be complacent, they must continue their support for the development of the next generation of vaccines and prioritise the reduction of infections here at home to reduce the possibility of another domestic variant emerging.’
The warnings about variants were scattered in a series of reports unveiled by the Government advisory group as part of its weekly transparency pledge.
SAGE warned that the virus can infect a host of different animals including minks — which have had to be culled in Denmark in their thousands.
The group warned further culling or animal vaccinating may be needed in other species to prevent them becoming reservoirs for the virus.
They listed dogs, cats, mice, rats and ferrets as animals who are known to have been infected with Covid.
Another potential issue they found is the use of anti-virals to treat Covid once a patient is already infected.
No10 has already launched an ‘anti-virals taskforce’, with the goal of finding drugs that Britons can take at home to treat any symptoms of Covid.
Scientists warned overusing the drugs could lead to more mutant strains and warned doctors to only prescribe them in the most serious cases of Covid.
But in more hopeful news, the group also predicted it is a ‘realistic possibility in the long term’ that as Covid continue to mutate it will cause less serious disease.
The group wrote: ‘In other words, this virus will become like other human CoV that causes common colds, but with much less severe disease predominantly in the old or clinically vulnerable.’
Screens at work can RAISE risk of virus transmission, scientists warn
Perspex screens in workplaces may increase the risk of virus transmission, government scientists have warned.
There is little evidence on the effectiveness of these barriers at reducing transmission through droplets, experts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.
Coronavirus spreads through small liquid particles when infected people cough, sneeze, speak or breathe.
They range from larger respiratory droplets to smaller aerosols, according to the World Health Organisation.
In an undated document released yesterday, Sage experts said: ‘Screens are unlikely to provide any direct benefit in reducing exposure to the virus from droplets or aerosols when people are already located at two metres or greater or where they are not face to face.’
And some evidence ‘suggests that screens could increase risks of aerosol transmission due to blocking airflow patterns or creating zones of poor air circulation behind screens’.
Now PHE spots ANOTHER variant: 16 Brits have tested positive for ‘Colombian’ strain
Health chiefs have spotted another Covid variant spreading in Britain, with 31 mutant strains now on the UK’s watchlist.
Sixteen cases of the B.1.621 version of the virus – which is thought to have originated in Colombia – have already been detected.
Public Health England insists there is no proof it is deadlier than Delta, which makes up 99 per cent of all cases in the UK.
And it says there’s no evidence that the strain renders any of the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
The Government-run agency also claims there is no sign that B.1.621 is spreading in the community.
But it does admit the variant contains a number of ‘mutations of concern’.
The figure shows how the B.1.621 variant — which was first identified in Colombia — spread across different countries over time, indicating that an increasing number of countries reported cases in June and July. The US and Mexico are among the countries to record the most cases
The coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, is mutating all the time as a result of genetic errors when it multiplies. Most mutations are harmless (stock)
Testing shows it does carry the same N501Y mutation that researchers believe made the Alpha variant so transmissible.
Some samples also contain E484K, which is also found in the Beta strain that experts say can partially evade vaccines.
The coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, is mutating all the time as a result of genetic errors when it multiplies. Most mutations are harmless.
But ones that make it able to spread quicker or to survive longer inside the human body are the ones that are likely to stick around.
They will be passed on to future generations if they give the virus a survival advantage, and the ability to spread faster and keep spreading for longer will help versions of the virus with that mutation to become dominant by overtaking slower, weaker versions.
The World Health Organization says the first documented sample of B.1.621 was in Colombia in January.
Another 25 countries have also recorded cases since then, including the US, Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands.
As well as the 16 cases already spotted in England, another six suspected samples are currently being analysed.
Almost all of the samples (10) have been detected in London. And most have been among twenty-somethings (six).
Two cases were spotted among people who were fully vaccinated. No-one has died yet.
Despite PHE saying there was no evidence of community transmission, only three of the cases had a history of travel.
Health chiefs said additional contact tracing has already been carried out. Targeted testing will be deployed to limit its spread, if necessary.
Further laboratory tests are now being carried out to help officials understand more about the strain.
REVEALED: ALL 31 COVID VARIANTS ON THE UK’S WATCHLIST.
VARIANTS OF CONCERN
The Alpha variant has a mutation called N501Y which could help it spread more easily.
The Beta variant also contains the troublesome N501Y mutation that speeds up transmission.
Additionally, it features the E484K mutation that can help it escape antibodies against other variants.
The variant which first originated in Brazil has both the N501Y and E484K mutation.
The Delta variant has two mutations that may speed up transmission and escape antibodies: E484Q and L452R.
VARIANTS UNDER INVESTIGATION
Theta (E484K and N501Y)
B.1.617.3 (E484Q and L452R)
Lambda (L452Q and F490S)
B.1.621 (N501Y and E484K)
… AND THE OTHERS THAT ARE BEING MONITORED
B.1.1.7 with E484K
B.1.1.7 with S494P
B.1.1.7 with Q677H
B.1 with 214insQAS
Lineage A with R346K, T478R and E484K
Delta like variant with E484A
P.1 + N501T and E484Q
Source: Daily Mail UK