Britain has tightened lockdowns in response to a worrying new coronavirus variant—but unless it does more, 2021 may be an even deadlier year for the country than 2020, according to a new study. Researchers at the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimate that the B117 variant, which carries a set of 23 mutations, is 56% more transmissible than other strains, Bloomberg reports. They say that while there is no sign B117 is deadlier than other strains of COVID-19, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are likely to surge unless the British government takes steps including closing schools and increasing the vaccination rate tenfold from the current 200,000 a week.
Britain's Office for National Statistics said Friday that there has been a sharp rise in positive tests in London and the southeast of England, where the variant was first detected, the BBC reports. The ONS estimates two-thirds of people testing positive in the region could have the new variant. The variant has also been detected in countries including Denmark and Singapore, which reported its first B117 case Friday. "Unfortunately, this is another twist in the plot," Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, tells the New York Times. "While we were all rejoicing for the vaccine, there is the possibility of a change of epidemiological context that makes our next few months much more complex and more perilous to navigate," he says. (BioNTech says it is "highly likely" that its vaccine will deal with the variant.)