There is a new variant of COVID-19 in the UK

On Saturday 19th December, millions of people were thrown into uncertainty when the UK government announced that Christmas was effectively cancelled. Plans to allow people to travel without restrictions for up to five days were scuppered by the emergence of a new variant of the virus.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • The variant is named VUI-202012/01.
  • It was detected by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium
  • There have been more than 1000 cases so far
  • It’s been detected in at least 60 local authorities within the UK
  • It was first spotted in September but seems to be causing a rise of case across the UK now

According to Public Health England, the new variant is not necessarily more dangerous, although research is currently underway.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and mutations are expected to occur as it replicates. Some variants with changes in the spike protein have already been observed as the virus is intensely sequenced here in the UK and around the world. There is no evidence that the newly-reported variant results in a more severe disease.

Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the department of infectious disease, Imperial College London.

In terms of the vaccine, the mutation that’s caused the new variant has been located in the spike protein — the area targeted by the vaccine. This means it should still be effective. However, more research is being done and we will know more in the coming weeks.


Source: BMJ 2020;371:m4857 (link), Science Focus (link)

It’s still going to be a difficult winter

It is still going to be a very difficult winter. Distributing millions of vaccines will take months, so there will be a period where some people have natural immunity and others have vaccine immunity, while others remain vulnerable. Moreover, we don’t know how long vaccine immunity will last. While it would be great to get a vaccine on a Monday and celebrate your newfound immunity at a party on Tuesday, that’s not how it works. Those who are lucky to get a vaccine early in the process owe it to their communities to continue wearing masks and distancing until new cases and hospitalizations subside to near zero.”

—Dave O’Connor, PhD, University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

People expend tremendous energy trying to be normal

Winter can be a difficult time for those with mental health issues, and also for people who have what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Here is a list covering a range of suicide hotlines and crisis lines worldwide for those who are struggling.

For those in the UK, here are some services available.

Samaritans UK & Ireland

Samaritans UK & Ireland offer 24-hour emotional support to anyone in distress or at risk of suicide throughout the UK & Ireland. They have 201 branches open 365 days a year, where people can also talk in person.
Tel: 116 123

Connect Counselling

Connect offers a free telephone counselling and support service for any adult who has experienced abuse, trauma or neglect in childhood. Their service is available from 6-10 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

Tel: 1800 477 477 (Ireland)

Tel: 00800 477 477 77 ( UK and Northern Ireland)

Tel: 00353 (0) 1 865 7495 ( Outside ROI and UK)

Calm

Campaign Against Living Miserably Help and support for young men aged 15-35 on issues which include depression and suicide.
Tel: 0800 585858

Stay safe,

Purplexed Science

How to spot bad science

Here at Purplexed Science, we always try to provide references and sources for any claims or information, but with a wide range of information available thanks to the internet, it can be hard to know what to trust.

For example, our first Did You Know? post was about human stomach being able to dissolve razor blades. We discovered this fact via a basic Google search, and it appeared on several ‘science facts’ posts, but there was no citation to the original paper or any kind of research on the vast majority of these posts.

If you are a student or working in the industry, it can be incredibly frustrating to search for information only to be let down when it doesn’t measure up to an acceptable standard.

Luckily, Compound Interest published this infographic (initially in 2014, updated in 2015) detailing a ‘rough guide’ to spotting bad science that is still very much relevant today.

The most important sign is the first – it’s very easy to spot a headline and not read further. It’s something most of us do every day, but when it comes to science – it’s never just about a headline.