The coronavirus variant first found in Kent could become the world’s dominant strain, the head of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme has predicted.
Prof Sharon Peacock told the BBC’s Newscast podcast the new variant has “swept the country” and “it’s going to sweep the world, in all probability”.
She said her team’s work sequencing variants of the virus could be required for at least 10 years.
The Kent variant has already been detected in more than 50 countries.
It was first detected in September 2020 in south-east England and its rapid spread over the following months was cited as the reason for the introduction of new lockdown rules across the UK in January.
Prof Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, said: “What’s really affected us at the moment is transmissibility.”
She added: “Once we get on top of [the virus] or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it. But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.”
Current vaccines were designed around earlier versions of coronavirus, but scientists believe they should still work against the new ones, although perhaps not quite as well.
Prof Peacock said the vaccines