NEW coronavirus restrictions are needed to counter mutant strains of Covid-19, experts have warned.
Scientists have said people need to learn to “adapt” to a new way of life which includes the prolonged use of face masks and coverings and maintaining safe social interactions.
Experts in evolution, virology and infectious disease at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Earlham Institute and University of Minnesota said stronger action is needed now to curb the spread.
While they highlighted that the government was trying to strike a “precarious balance” between the economy and stopping further fatalities – they said it’s important that they take action now to stop more mutant variants down the line.
They warned that emerging and existing strains, such as those discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil could threaten the effectiveness of vaccines.
Writing in an editorial for the journal Virulence Professors Cock van Oosterhout, Neil Hall, Hinh Ly, and its editor-in-chief Prof Kevin Tyler said people needed to continue to follow the rules.
They said: “Continuing public health efforts to encourage vaccination as well as continued use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as proper masking and maintaining safe social interactions, is of utmost importance.
“Humanity is faced with a new reality. The faster we adapt, the better our long-term prospects. We must stop the evolution and spread of more virulent virus strains now.
“We, therefore, support public health policies with strict control measures in order to protect our public health system, our individual wellbeing, and our future.”
While the experts said they would support further restrictions they did not state how far further restrictions would go.
Last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sticking to the current lockdown rules will help reduce spread.
He said: “Infections across England are at very high levels and this will keep having a knock-on effect on the already significant pressures faced by our NHS and hospitals.
“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part.
“This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing.”
The experts also warned that pets such as cats and dogs would have to be vaccinated as transmission from pets continues to be a “public health risk”.
They added: “It is not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species might… be necessary to curb the spread of the infection.”
However they added that while cats and dogs can contract Covid-19, there was no evidence that they could pass it on to humans.
Looking at previous lockdowns and the impact they have had on the virus, the experts said economic stimulus packages in some countries have fuelled the rate of person to person transmission.
Because of this, at the start of winter the virus continued to spread at a faster rate than before, they explained: “By not absolutely minimising the R number when we had the chance, we extended the pathogen transmission chains, providing more opportunity for it to mutate and evolve into more virulent variants.”
On Friday Sage revealed that the R rate could be as low as 0.6 in some parts of the UK.
The R rate – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass Covid onto – is now between 0.8 and 1.
It was estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.3 nationally last week, when the growth rate also suggested the outbreak was continuing to get worse.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies today said the R rate is now below 1 in every English region with each falling compared to last week.
In the East of England the R rate may even be as low as 0.6, while for London and the South East it could be down to 0.7.
When the R rate is below 1, it means transmission is low and the epidemic is shrinking – but greater than that number suggests it’s growing.
The last time the reproduction value was below 1 in the UK was December 11 and it peaked a fortnight ago when the range was between 1 and 1.4.
The experts added that a higher R rate can result from the virus evolving and being able to infect people for longer periods of time.