A team of British scientists released a worrying study of the new coronavirus variant sweeping the United Kingdom. They warned that the variant is so contagious that new control measures, including closing down schools and universities, might be necessary. Even that may not be enough, they noted, saying, “It may be necessary to greatly accelerate vaccine rollout.”
The study, released by the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has not yet undergone review by a scientific journal. The study compares a series of models as predictors of data on infections, hospitalizations and other variables; other researchers are studying the variant in laboratory experiments to determine if it is biologically distinct.
The study found no evidence that the variant was more deadly than others. But the researchers estimated that it was 56 percent more contagious. On Monday, the British government released an initial estimate of 70 percent.
Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, said that it presented a compelling explanation of the past and potential future of the variant.
“The overall message of it is solid and consistent with what we’ve been seeing from other sources of information,” he said in an interview. “Does this matter? Yes. Is there evidence for increased transmission? Yes. Is that going to impact the next few months? Yes. Those are all, I think, pretty solid.”
The variant, which came to the attention of British researchers earlier this month, has been rapidly spreading in London and eastern England. It carries a set of 23 mutations, some of which may make it more contagious. The authors of the study found more evidence that the variant does indeed spread more rapidly than others. For example, they ruled out the possibility that it was becoming more common because outbreaks had started in places where people were more likely to come into contact with each other.