Covid mutant strain found in south east ‘more likely to affect children’, study warns

Coronavirus: Spread of COVID-19 variants discussed by expert

Days before Christmas, Boris Johnson announced a new strain of the virus has been found in London, Kent and other regions in the south east of England. The Prime Minister plunged most of the south east of England into Tier 4 restrictions, banning mixing of households indoors.

But now, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have warned there is evidence to suggest the increase may be “particularly marked in children”.

Professor Wendy Barclay, of Imperial College London and a NERVTAG member, said: “I think on the topic of children we’ve got to be careful about what we say.

“We are not saying this is a virus that specifically attacks children or is any more specific in its ability to infect children.

“But we know that SARS-CoV-2, as it emerged as a virus, was not as efficient at infecting children as it was adults.

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“The previous virus had a harder time binding ACE2 and getting into cells and therefore adults, which have abundant ACE2 in their nose and throat, were the easy targets and children were difficult to infect.

“The newer virus has an easier time doing that and children are therefore equally susceptible, perhaps, to this virus as adults.

“Given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected.

“It’s not because the virus is specifically targeting children, but that it is now less inhibited.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist of Imperial College London, added: “There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children.

“That may perhaps explain some of the differences but we haven’t established any sort of casualty.”

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said if the public works together on coronavirus testing schools can remain open.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last week, Mr Williamson said: “As such there are no plans for schools to close, but the start of term will see a staggered roll-out of mass testing which will provide extra protection and reassurance.

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“It has rightly been a national priority for all pupils to return to school full-time and that’s why we will continue to support local authorities, providers, school trusts, colleges and childcare settings to open and remain open next term.

“It’s because we know the epidemic is changing rapidly.”

He went on to say how “all secondary schools and colleges in England will be able to test all staff and students from the first week of January”.

About the new strain affecting children, one person tweeted: “Present the evidence for scrutiny!

“And open schools. Covid is harmless for children.”

Another person said: “This will be used to keep schools closed now after New Year, wait and see!”

Someone else raised concerns next year “may not look” any better than this year if the virus keeps mutating.

While another person reassured the public and said: “It’s quite likely that as this virus becomes more transmissible, it also becomes less pathogenic.

“Viral mutation often gives rise to variants that keep the host alive for longer.”

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