The Cabinet and experts are very concerned about the emergence of the British variant of the coronavirus. Minister De Jonge said last night at the coronapers conference that this variant will probably become dominant here too. This is very worrying, experts say, because the mutant beats around him much faster. Six questions about this British variant.
First of all, what about that contagiousness?
The mutant spreads 40 to 70% faster than the coronavirus we have so far, according to British and Danish studies. “This is worrying,” says epidemiologist and adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) Amrish Baidjoe. “Because even with the current variant it is not possible to get the R value below 1 in many countries.” Dissemination is therefore still increasing in many places.
“ It is my opinion, and that of other experts, that it is only a matter of time before this British variant is widespread.” Baidjoe is afraid this will cause great trouble. With more infections, more people will get sick and the number of deaths will increase.
The consequences can be huge, show CCEit on 3 in these five images:
How come this variant goes around faster?
“ This is particularly the spread of human to human beings,” says virologist Mariet Feltkamp. “Studies show that people infected with this variant probably have much more virus in their throats, allegedly against a hundred times more.”
“ Another aspect is with the receiver. It may be that from this variant you need less virus to get infected. This has to do with the fact that the British variant seems to bind to the receptor better.” So it is assumed that someone who is infected transmits the virus faster, and others get it faster.
“ These are all scenarios on the table,” says Baidjoe. “But much still needs to be sorted out in the lab. That will take a while.”
What do we know about the presence in the Netherlands?
We know that the virus is present here, but there is still little to say about its size. Therefore, in the municipality of Lansingerland – where infections with the British variant have been detected – all residents have been tested. The operation was announced on Monday.
The GGD Rotterdam-Rijnmond and the Erasmus MC want to gain a better understanding of the spread of the coronavirus and the British variant. About thirty mutant infections can be linked to an outbreak at an elementary school in the municipality.
Last week, Professor of Virology Marion Koopmans said that 1 to 5 percent of the Dutch who were tested positive the week before were infected with the British variant. “We have to be very careful what happens with this,” she warned.
What happens if this variant becomes dominant here?
That‘s still hard to predict. That is only the case in Great Britain, and when the virus started to get there, the situation was different from that here. At that time, the lockdown in part of the country had been lifted. In London, for example, cafés and restaurants were open. That made the spread go even faster.
It is certain that we would not be able to cope with such a rapid spread as in England. “There is no care system, not even in Germany, nor in England, nor in the Netherlands, which can handle it,” said Ernst Kuipers of the National Network Acute Care in the House this morning:
Do you notice that you have the British variant?
No, says virologist Feltkamp. “As a patient, you do not notice any difference, for example, it does not make you sicker. As far as we know, there are no other symptoms that we can recognize in the patient. You only see it in the population: the absolute numbers of infections are increasing.”
Do the current vaccines also work for this variant?
“ That has been investigated and, when vaccinated, you are also protected against this variant,” says Feltkamp. “The question is whether the current vaccines work well against other new variants, such as those from South Africa. There are some other subtle mutations in there.”
Is this variant more contagious for children?
That was initially thought in England, but in the meantime there has been uncertainty about that. Jaap van Dissel of the RIVM said this morning in the House of Representatives that research shows that children do not spread the British variant extra, as was feared before, but not all experts agree on this.
“ You can’t say with certainty that children play a small role in spreading,” says epidemiologist Baidjoe. “From British data, the group of 11 to 18 year olds spread this variant the most around Christmas. But we cannot, therefore, exclude children as a source of infection.”
What can you do to prevent infection?
In short: you are even better to adhere to the measures. That turns out to be difficult, butremains necessary, experts emphasize. Only by keeping a distance from each other can we prevent contamination. In order to prevent the spread of the British variant, lockdown rules may need to be tightened up.
“ We need to see what else we can do,” said Jaap van Dissel of the RIVM in the House of Representatives. Van Dissel mainly thinks of measures to reduce the number of visits that people bring together. “We now see that clearly as the weak point. How do you prevent people from visiting too much together?”