A U.K. resident looks at a sign warning people about the rise in COVID-19 in their area. Photo: dw.com

As the number of COVID-19 cases recorded in the United States surpasses 26 million, scientists have continued to discover new variants of the virus. “In the United Kingdom, a new variant called B.1.1.7 has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations,” said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on their website. “This variant was first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England.” As of now, the U.K. variant has been identified in 33 countries and more than half of all U.S. states, including Georgia. 

The United Kingdom went into a state of lockdown in an effort to limit the spread of the new strain. According to BBC News, anyone caught having social gatherings with more than 15 people will be fined 800 euros, and residents are only allowed to leave their homes for “reasonable excuses.” Different parts of the U.K. have different end dates for the lockdown, but most countries plan to remain in quarantine until spring 2021. Many foreign countries have also imposed new restrictions for travelers coming from the U.K., such as a 14-day quarantine upon entry and mandatory testing. In the U.S., people traveling from the U.K. to New York must quarantine or face a $1000 fine. Some airlines, such as Delta, are also requiring testing for all passengers flying between New York City and the U.K. 

Two other variants of the virus have also been identified in the U.S. These two variants are 1.351, originally located in South America, and P.1, which was found in travelers from Brazil. The main concern with the new strains is the rapid rate of infection. According to the CDC,  “Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. However, an increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”

Speaking to reporters on Jan. 29, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said that he expects the U.K. variant to become “more dominant” in the U.S. by the end of March or beginning of April. 

According to an article on Yahoo!Finance, the U.K. variant is 30%-70% more infectious. While there is a rapid increase in cases of the B.1.1.7, experts are not surprised by its appearance. “Mutations in viruses — including the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic — are neither new nor unexpected,” said Robert Cyril Bollinger M.D., M.P.H in an article on the Johns Hopkins’ medical page. Due to its sudden appearance, scientists are still researching the effects of the new strain. 

 Experts continue to encourage people to not let up on COVID-19 protocols. “Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and protecting public health,” says the CDC website. The vaccine should work on all of the new variants, but if problems arise, scientists will alter the vaccine, just as they do with the flu shot every year. 

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