Public Health Update – new variant of coronavirus

Covid-19 and related​​ updates

 

For​​ the latest​​ information about our services and how they are operating, visit:

www.welhat.gov.uk/coronavirus

 

 

Monday​​ 21​​ December

Tier 4 service implications

Further to our messages​​ at the weekend, GLL has closed all indoor leisure facilities with just the golf course remaining open for groups of two players. The Hive​​ has​​ shut its doors​​ and Mill Green will open for pre-booked flour sales only.

 

Public Health Advice​​ from Jim McManus, Director of Public Health

Public Health Advice​​ remains​​ unchanged​​ despite the identification of the rapid spread of the new variant of the virus.  This is because the transmission routes​​ remain unchanged​​ (droplet spread by close social interaction or aerosol spread in crowded rooms) and while the new variant of virus has shown an ability to spread more easily, the measures described below​​ are and remain​​ effective if​​ performed thoroughly, persistently and consistently:

 

  • When meeting others or outside your home, treat​​ everyone​​ else as if they could be infected and behave​​ as if you may be​​ 

  • Physical distancing​​ remains​​ 2 metres and​​ only​​ get closer IF you are wearing a face covering AND for the briefest time possible; and avoid stuffy crowded environments

  • Wash or sanitise your hands regularly

  • Wear a face covering where required

  • ONLY touch your face and mouth if you have just cleaned your hands

  • Good cough and sneeze etiquette – into a tissue or crook of your elbow and wash your hands

  • Self-isolate immediately if you have symptoms, or are asked to do so by Test and Trace or council contact tracers

 

Advice for clinically extremely vulnerable in Tier 4 areas

This group is advised to stay at home at all times, unless for exercise or medical appointments, and not to attend work, even if they are unable to work from home.​​ Anyone that is in this category will receive a letter from government this week​​ outlining full details.​​ Please speak to your manager if you are clinically extremely vulnerable and need to leave your home to fulfil your duties.

 

Take care of yourself, and each other

A phrase most known​​ as​​ Jerry Springer’s​​ end of show​​ catchphrase, these words​​ also​​ seem​​ an​​ appropriate​​ mantra​​ for coping in the weeks ahead. It won’t be easy, but the solidarity of our friends, family and colleagues will help get us through. There’s support out there if you are struggling, including resources on​​ WINNIE​​ and a new mental health toolkit from the​​ East of England Local Government Association.​​ The most important thing to remember is​​ you​​ are​​ not alone​​ and​​ talking about​​ how you feel goes a long way to​​ helping you feel better.​​ 

 

 

The New Variant

The Prime Minister announced yesterday that a new variant of the virus (VUI-202012/01 or​​ the first Variant Under Investigation​​ in December 2020) had been isolated with 1,108 cases so far identified​​ at the time of writing, mostly in the South and East of England.  This includes Hertfordshire.​​ 

 

Why do we have a variant strain?

Variants of viruses arise all the time in response to either the way our body responds to viruses or because of the environment, or both.  This is natural.  Some variants become “fitter” or better able to infect and reproduce, others fail. Coronavirus mutations, on the whole, do not change as much as ‘flu viruses and are a little more stable, so we may or may not need a regular updating of the vaccine in future.

 

How did we find out about it?

During lockdown 2 in late November, an unusual pattern of transmission in Kent was identified by Public Health England, with infections rising very rapidly whilst the rest of the country slowed down. This spread geographically.  This led to a close look at the genetic types of cluster samples and from this the identification of this new strain of the virus. Further sampling across the South East, London and part of Essex indicated an increasing spread of the new variant strain.​​ 

 

It is estimated that the new strain is becoming the predominant type spreading in many of the areas of London, the South East and East of England (responsible for close to 60% of new cases).​​ 

 

The new strain is found everywhere in the country but at variable proportions at the moment. It is only a matter of time before it becomes the predominant spread everywhere in England.

 

What do we know about this variant?

The variant is still under study, but there are some things we know so far.

 

  • There are a number of variants of SARS-CoV-2 including one isolated in Danish Mink.  This latest variant is a different variant, and while found in Gibraltar, Denmark and Australia is thought to have originated in either South East England (Kent) or London

 

  • The virus is thought to be more easily spread from person to person.  This is down to two factors.​​ 

 

    • First, it produces more virus in people who are infectious (a higher viral load) which means more virus can be breathed out in droplets or aerosol.  So there is more of it breathed out to get into someone’s body through their nose, mouth and eyes.​​ 

    • Second, it has multiple mutations on its spike proteins (surface spikes) which means when it does get into your body it is better adapted to getting inside your cells and replicating.

 

  • Various estimates are stated that it is about 50%-75% more transmissible than the dominant strain that has been circulating for months.  BUT these remain estimates and should be treated with caution. That does​​ not​​ mean prevention measures are ineffective, they are, if performed rigorously. (More detail below)

 

Does it make people more ill?

We do not have any clinical evidence yet to ascertain whether the impact on people infected is neutral, better or worse.  Urgent studies are ongoing to establish if this new variant will follow the usual pattern that as these viruses become more transmissible they reduce in virulence. There are multiple lab studies underway exploring the properties of this strain, due to the lab processes early results are not expected until nearer the end of the month.

 

Does the vaccine still work?

Yes

 

Do the tests still work?

On testing, the main PCR methods still work for this strain.  And test processes in labs, including in our hospitals labs locally are fine for this strain.  Lateral Flow Tests also still work for this strain.

 

 

In addition to this, if anyone is having difficulty obtaining food, or other essentials, you can contact the Hertfordshire-wide "HertsHelp" scheme, being run jointly by all councils in the county.​​ 

Website:​​ www.hertshelp.net​​ 

Email:​​ info@hertshelp.net​​ 

Phone: 0300-123-4044​​ 

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council also regularly updates Covid=related information on the​​ Coronavirus​​ link​​ on the home page of the website.​​ 

www.welhat.gov.uk​​