The U.K.'s Top Scientist Has a Chilling COVID Warning for Americans

A professor monitoring the new variant of COVID wants Americans to prepare for this.

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As new cases of COVID-19 appear to be dropping at a steady rate and with the vaccine being rolled out to more locations across the country, there’s cause for some optimism regarding the progress of the pandemic in the U.S. However, this week, there was a sobering message from one expert that'll put you on edge. The words of warning came from Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. Consortium, the surveillance program monitoring how the virus is adapting and mutating in the country. And there's a bleak reality she wants Americans—and people around the world—to be prepared for. To see what she had to say, read on, and for more on when you'll be able to get your shot, check out Dr. Fauci Says You'll Easily Get a Vaccine Appointment After This Date.

She predicts the U.K. variant is about to "sweep the world."

Scientists wearing full protective suit working in the laboratory
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In a Feb. 10 interview for the BBC’s Newscast podcast, Peacock said that the U.K. variant had “swept the country,” noting it’s currently responsible for the majority of new cases in England. But then, she warned, “It’s going to sweep the world, in all probability.” At the current time, the U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7., has been detected in more than 70 countries, according to The New York Times. And for the key symptom to look out for, check out This Is the Tell-Tale Sign You Have the New COVID Strain, Study Says.

And she believes we'll be worrying about COVID for the next decade.

Scientists wearing full protective suit working in the laboratory
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Peacock stressed that the key to containing the virus is closely monitoring how it's adapting, and continuing to do so even once this acute phase of the pandemic is over and life has returned to normal. “Once we get on top of [the virus] 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." And for a stateside prediction about our return to normalcy, check out Dr. Fauci Says This One Thing Could Stop Us From Getting Back to Normal.

Right now, the U.K. strain is one of three variants of concern.

scientists in lab
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While all viruses mutate in order to transmit and survive, most of these differences are insignificant. At the moment, however, there are three variants that are particularly concerning experts: one originating from Brazil, one from South Africa, and the U.K. strain. In all cases, the concern is that mutations have occurred that may make the virus at least partially resistant to vaccines and treatments, or faster to transmit.

Peacock said only a very small number of variants have "special features" that are cause for concern, like increased transmissibility, ability to avoid the immune response and vaccinations, or ability to cause more severe disease or death. "These are the things we are looking out for. I'd say it happens vanishingly rarely but we have to be on the look out for it," she explained. The U.K. variant is one of those rare instances.

Research by scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) in the U.K. suggests that the B.1.1.7. variant spreads between 30 percent and 70 percent faster than others. "What's really affected us at the moment is transmissibility," said Peacock. This increase in the number of cases, rather than their severity, is what’s placed the U.K. medical system under huge strain since December. And for the states seeing the most U.K. variant cases, check out These 2 States Are the Biggest Hotspots for the New COVID Strain.

Cases of the B.1.1.7. strain in the U.S. are currently doubling every 10 days.

One nurse looking at the medical ventilator screen.
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Currently, as of Feb. 11, there are 981 reported cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S., spread across 37 states. In a new study out of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers found that cases of this highly contagious COVID strain are doubling every 10 days.

Their findings support the prediction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the strain will become the dominant type of COVID in the U.S. come March. “Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality," the authors note. "It is almost certainly destined to become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 lineage by March, 2021 across many U.S. states." And for more on keeping yourself safe from COVID-19, check out This Medication Could Slash Your Risk of Dying From COVID, Experts Say.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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