Everything We Know About the New COVID-19 Strain Sweeping the World

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On Dec. 19, 2020, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference to announce the identification of a new variant of COVID-19 responsible for the virus’ recent rapid spread through London and other areas of Southern England. This new variant, the first cases of which were found in the U.K. in September, is thought to be more contagious and affect "an estimated 50% more people" than previous widespread strains. "There is no evidence the variant causes more severe illness or higher mortality, but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily," Johnson stated.

In an attempt to curtail the spread of the variant, which is now being called VOC-202012/01, Johnson imposed new pandemic restrictions on Southern England, moving the region from Tier 3 of the lockdown system to the stricter Tier 4. In response to Johnson’s press conference, over 30 neighboring and other countries swiftly began implementing travel restrictions in an effort to prevent the global spread of the variant. However, this ultimately did little to stanch the proliferation of this more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus across the world.

In the weeks following Johnson's press conference, the highly re-infective mutation began appearing in South Africa, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States, among other countries. The New York Times reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "has predicted that this variant could become the dominant source of infection in the United States by March," which raises questions about everything from vaccine efficacy to potential new sources of strain on overextended hospital systems. But similarly to the novel coronavirus when it first emerged, much remains unknown about the variant. However, experts are discovering more about VOC-202012/01's pathology each day.