Public Affairs & Government Relations

COVID-19 UK Political Analysis – 5th February 2021

New Strains. Virus mutation is now the biggest threat to UK strategy.

In ordinary circumstances the combination of letters and numbers that are “E484K” would be of little or no interest to any minister or official in Whitehall. Yet in the past few days, they have become very prominent indeed at the highest levels of government. They are the identification awarded to a crucial element of genetic mutation in the recently imported South African variation of the coronavirus (501.V2) and, potentially even more disturbing, in a very small, at the moment, number of examples of the virus variation that initially emerged in Kent last September (B.117) and the original virus. This has obliged Matt Hancock to come as close as he can do to ordering  80,000 residents in eight parts of the country to undertake coronavirus testing as soon as possible, while others who live in areas within parts of Bristol and Liverpool will find themselves similarly exhorted to stay in their homes for even more time and also to engage in fresh testing.

This might appear to be an extreme, even excessive, response to what at the time of Mr Hancock’s announcement were, in the South African example, a mere 11 cases out of 105 in total which could not be explained by personal international travel, and, in the instance of the further evolution of the Kent variation, data on 11 cases out of 214,159 samples tested. In reality, the Health and Social Care Secretary had little choice but to attempt to throw the kitchen sink at stopping these virus mutations in their tracks as the evidence is there, if not yet quantified precisely, that these strains of virus while not resistant to the vaccines now being injected, are probably less susceptible to them.

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