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LONDON (Reuters) – In Britain, a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly, causing high levels of concern among its European neighbors, some of whom have decreased transport links.

The strain, referred to as the B.1.1.7 lineage by some scientists, is not the first new form of the pandemic virus to appear, but is claimed to be up to 70% more transmissible than the United Kingdom’s previously dominant strain.

Scientists say yes to most. In the case of COVID-19 in parts of southern England, the new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain and has been linked to an increase in hospitalization rates, especially in London and in the neighbouring county of Kent.

Though it was first seen in Britain in September, 62 percent of COVID-19 cases were attributed to the latest form by the week of Dec. 9 in London. Three weeks ago, that compared to 28% of cases.

The governments of Australia, Italy and the Netherlands say that cases of the latest strain have been identified. It was discovered in early December in the Netherlands.

A few cases of COVID-19 with the latest version have also been identified by Iceland and Denmark to the ECDC, the European Disease Monitoring Agency. In Belgium, media reports suggest cases have been identified there as well.

“It is right to take it seriously,” said Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London. Shaun Fitzgerald, a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge, said the situation was “extremely concerning.”

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The primary concern is that the variant is considerably more transmissible than the initial strain. It has 23 mutations – a relatively high number of changes – in its genetic code, and some of these impair its ability to spread.

It is around 40 percent -70 percent more transmissible, scientists claim. “On Saturday, the UK government said it might raise the reproduction “R” rate by 0.4.

“The new B.1.1.7 … still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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