New SARS-CoV-2 variant must be curbed to protect UK health services, warn experts

More than one year into the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the world has adjusted to the new normal. However, as many people have adapted to the changes in socialization and mobility, a new variant poses renewed threats in many countries – particularly in the UK, where it was first detected in late-2020.

The new variant, called VUI-202012/01, was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 14, 2020. It has since spread to various countries, and has contributed to surging cases in many parts of the world.

A new research project called REACT-1 – launched by researchers at the Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and Ipsos MORI –  has aimed to better understand the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2’s viral spread across the UK.

The researchers warn that health services remain under “extreme pressure” and that the number of deaths will increase rapidly unless the viral spread in the community is contained. As the researchers’ project suggests, central to curbing SARS-CoV-2’s transmission in a population, however, is fully understanding it.

What is the REACT-1 study?

The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) program is one of the largest research projects to date that looks at how the virus is spreading across the UK. It contains two pieces of work, which look at the possibility of using home sampling and testing to monitor the infection.

The first, REACT1, will use antigen swab tests on 100,000 randomly selected people in England. This will examine how widely the virus has spread. The second, called REACT2, will assess various antibody tests to see how accurate they are and how easily people can use them at home. Antibody tests will show if people developed an immune response to the infection. It can show the extent of the pandemic in a given area or location.

The study

The pre-print report of the study came after the UK reported another all-time high in coronavirus deaths. To date, an additional 1,820 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The country has seen nearly 3.6 million confirmed cases and more than 96,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The REACT-1 study tests nose and throat swabs from about 120,000 to 180,000 people in the country at monthly intervals. The latest covered period was between January 6 and January 15. The study compared the results with swabs obtained between November 13 and November 24, and those collected from November 25 to December 3.

The researchers found 1,962 positive cases from the 142,909 swabs collected over the January period, giving a weighted average of 1.58 percent. This represents a more than 50 percent increase in prevalence rates since the study’s mid-December results is the highest recorded by the study since May 2020.

The team also revealed that there was a marked decrease in activity at the end of December 2020, followed by an increase at the start of the working week in January 2021. Between the two rounds, prevalence heightened in all adult age groups, which more than doubled in those who are more than 65 years old.

Further, the team explained that some of the factors tied to the increased prevalence included large household size, Black and Asian ethnicity, and living in a deprived neighborhood.

Health care workers and home care workers had an increased likelihood of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 than other workers.

The team concluded that during the first ten days of the UK’s third lockdown in England in January 2021, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 was very high, with no evidence of decline.

Until prevalence in the community is reduced substantially, health services will remain under extreme pressure and the cumulative number of lives lost during this pandemic will continue to increase rapidly,” the team concluded.

Journal reference:
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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