News Coronavirus ‘It moves faster’: Hyper-infectious UK coronavirus strain now dominant in Australia
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‘It moves faster’: Hyper-infectious UK coronavirus strain now dominant in Australia

Coronavirus COVID-19 floating around London attractions
The UK coronavirus strain has forced the entire state of Victoria into a snap lockdown. Photo: Getty
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The United Kingdom strain of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in Australia, one of the nation’s top health experts warned as the entire state of Victoria entered a snap lockdown to combat an outbreak.

The snap lockdown was prompted by the leak of the B117 strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from hotel quarantine in Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the UK strain was “a different virus” from the one the state battled with a lockdown of more than 100 days in 2018.

“Victorians will be well familiar with the term ‘UK strain’, ‘UK variant of concern’. We have talked about this for a long time, because it is so hyper-infectious, and moves so fast, that it is presenting a
very, very real challenge to our status, our stay-safe, stay-open, our precious thing that we’ve built – all of us – throughout 2020,” Mr Andrews said.

“We’re dealing with a very different strain. It moves faster. It’s transmitted more easily,” he warned, saying the UK strain was spreading “at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months.”

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said “the variant first identified in the UK is a genuine concerning virus” that has now become the “predominant” strain in Australia. 

“It probably started with one individual in the south-east of England in September of last year, but it became the predominant strain in England, now the predominant strain in the UK, and fast becoming the predominant strain across Europe and potentially globally,” Professor Sutton said.

The UK coronavirus strain is “predominant” in Australia, Victoria’s CHO Brett Sutton said.

“That’s because it is significantly more infectious than any other virus that we’ve seen previously. And we’re seeing this play out in the cases that we’ve had in this cluster of cases in Victoria.”

Professor Sutton said it was important to “get entirely ahead of this, and not have a situation where the rate of increase with the B117 variant becomes exponential and stricter measures, you know, might be required for a longer period of time.”

The B117 variant is now making up 75 per cent of cases in hotel quarantine, Professor Sutton said.

B117: What we know about the UK coronavirus strain

Early studies suggest the strain – first detected in Britain and now known as the B117 strain – is up to 70 per cent more infectious than other variants.

Professor William Rawlinson, a senior medical virologist at UNSW, said the new strain was more infectious, but “it’s not wildfire”.

“It has replaced other strains in other countries, but I think it needs to be put in perspective,” he said.

“It’s more infectious, not a super-virus.”

Professor Rawlinson added the increased transmissibility of a virus was just one important way it jumps from person to person.

There are lots of other contributing factors, like whether or not people were socially distancing.

At least 75 countries around the world have now detected the new UK variant, according to cov-lineages.org, which tracks the global spread of the new COVID-19 strains.

And it’s moving quickly.

In the United States, the mutant strain is doubling its reach about every 10 days, according to a recent study that is yet to be peer-reviewed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “This strain is likely to become [the] more dominant strain of the virus globally.”

Although Australians have worked hard to manage local outbreaks, we’ve also been very lucky.

Many elements have contributed to the grim situation in the UK, where more than 112,000 people have died from COVID-19 and nearly 4 million have become infected.

Associate Professor Griffin said cold weather, the changing of seasons and different social distancing restrictions in the UK may have played a role in helping the new strain take off.

“While the UK has had a terrible time, it wasn’t just because of the new strain,” he said.

“It is more infectious, but perhaps not as much as first thought.”

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