The UK COVID variant

Happy new year! The new COVID “British” variant (UK B117 strain) isn’t, of course, British. It was merely detected there first. See this thread by Dr. Gurdasani on Twitter, and the linked report from the Imperial College London:

The TL;DR version is that this virus is
A. Apparently more transmissible in children, and
B. Has a higher Rt (the coefficient of transmission in real-time*).

While the Rt for the OG COVID is 0.92 IN LOCKDOWN** (i.e., on average, one person gives it to 0.92 other people, so the number of infected tends to go down, IN LOCKDOWN)… the UK B117 strain’s Rt is 1.45. IN LOCKDOWN. Which means exponential spread, and (given time), everyone gets sick. Even in lockdown (see footnote ** again). Collapsed hospitals, etc. Which means we would need much, much, much more stringent measures to control it.

Before your eyes glaze over, this just means that people give the new variant to each other much more than the original one.

It has already been detected in Colorado, with no discernible connection to the UK. It’s a good bet that wherever you are, it’s also already there. We didn’t know how to look for it, or that we should. Now that we will start looking for it, we’ll probably find it everywhere. And since it’s more contagious, it may even become the dominant strain.

For the nerds in the audience, the mechanism for increased transmissibility is still unknown. There is a mutation in the spike protein (yes, the same one targeted by the vaccine) that makes it bind tighter to human cellular receptors. This is a reasonable hypothesis as to why it’s more contagious, but we don’t actually KNOW yet. We don’t know whether the vaccine is equally effective against this strain, either. The people who make the vaccine think it’ll be effective. How much, we don’t know yet.


  • Get vaccinated as soon as you can (I’m scheduled for Tuesday, thank my employer!)
  • Keep social distancing measures in place. Masks. Masks. Masks.- For the love of everything that is sane, avoid parties, enclosed bars and restaurants, gatherings, etc.
  • Yes, this means avoid “outdoors” fully enclosed spaces. That’s dumb as rocks.
  • In fact, avoid restaurants and bars other than carryout, period.
  • In case you don’t think I’m serious about the above: I’M AN INVESTOR IN TWO DIFFERENT SMALL RESTAURANTS. Sucks to be me.
  • Seriously consider switching the kids to distance learning. I KNOW this is a heartbreaking decision for a lot of families, and many have incredible difficulties re: work. Also, kids don’t learn as well. I know. I know. Do it anyway if you can.
  • The vaccines are not yet approved for use in children; they won’t be for weeks-to-months. Do you want your kids to catch a lethal disease, or one that will give them lifelong disabilities? Of course you don’t.
  • Do all of this even AFTER getting both doses of the vaccine. We need to know more before we let our guard down.
  • Yes, I’ve been fantasizing about traveling and going to dinner once properly vaccinated. No can do, for now.

* R0 is an inherent property of the virus. Rt is the transmission coefficient in real-time, as observed. Rt can and does change over time. We don’t actually know R0 for either variant, although there’s a proposed range for the OG COVID. It stands to reason that UKB117 R0 > OG R0, but we don’t know yet.

** The UK’s lockdown measures SUCK, because they include in-person school… and this variant seems to affect children more. Chicken or egg problem there: children are more exposed, so maybe that’s why they’ve been more affected? Hopefully actual distancing might help.

*** Originally posted on Facebook. The formatting was improved here.

**** Sorry, this came out a lot longer and ramblier than expected.