The UK coronavirus variant could "impact the epidemic curve" and lead to "a more restrictive approach to the public health and social measures" in Europe, if it becomes the continent’s dominant strain, the World Health Organization’s senior emergency officer for Europe warned on Thursday.
Speaking at a WHO Europe press briefing, Catherine Smallwood said that the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly referred to as the "UK strain" or "Kent strain," is now circulating in over half of all European countries.
“Specific to the European region is the ongoing spread of another variant of concern, the lineage B.1.1.7, that was first identified in the UK and is now clearly circulating in the communities in more than half of the countries around the region. That particular variant, especially in Western European countries, is spreading more quickly than other lineages,” she told reporters.
Smallwood warned that the restrictions currently in place across Europe may not be sufficient to suppress the B.1.1.7 variant once it becomes the dominant strain in the region.
“Once it becomes dominant it may impact the epidemic curve overall and lead to the need for a more restrictive approach to the public health and social measures that need to be in place so that rates of transmission can decrease.”
Smallwood's comments followed a stark warning from the director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, Sharon Peacock, who told the BBC on Wednesday that the B.1.1.7 strain is "going to sweep the world in all probability."