The new strain of Covid-19 may spread more quickly in children, according to government advisors.
While the original strain found it more difficult to infect children than adults, could this one be more infectious in kids? Here’s what we know so far.
What’s the new coronavirus strain?
On 19 December Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that coronavirus had mutated, and a new strain may be spreading rapidly throughout South East England.
The new strain is now present in all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland.
The government website stated: “The strain was identified due to Public Health England’s proactive and enhanced monitoring following the increase in cases seen in Kent and London.”
The new virus appears to be overtaking the number of non-variant cases in London.
In November roughly a quarter of cases in London were the new variant, while it now accounts for nearly two-thirds of cases.
There is significant research being carried out into the new strain. So far, experts have suggested it could be more transmissible, but it isn’t thought to be any more deadly than the original virus.
This means that while people may not get sicker from being infected by the virus, they may be able to catch it more easily, which could in turn lead to the NHS being overwhelmed and more people getting very ill or dying.
Public health officials and researchers have expressed their confidence that the vaccine - which the UK has already rolled out to over 500,000 people - will be effective on the new variant of the virus.
The UK Government said: “It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been observed in other countries, such as Spain.”
The new variant has led to strict tiered lockdown rules for millions, harsher Christmas restrictions in England, Scotland and Wales, and other countries placing a travel ban on the UK.
Is the new strain more infections for children?
Children were back at school from September, when the new strain of the virus is thought to have appeared.
In the past six weeks, the new mutation of the virus has spread significantly in parts of England, while the initial Covid strain continues to spread also.
Entomologist Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group (Nervtag) said that early research “hints that it has a higher propensity to infect children”.
He said: "If it were true, then this might explain a significant proportion, maybe even the majority, of the transmission increase seen.”
The Imperial College London academic,who had previously been an adviser to SAGE during the first lockdown, is among researchers who believe the new virus strain possibly carries up to a 70% higher infection rate.
Professor Wendy Barclay from Nervtag and Imperial College London said the mutated form of the virus may be entering the bodies of children more easily.
She explained children may be on a “more level playing field” with adults due to the new strain, which is “less inhibited” in children.
Further research is due to be carried out over Christmas.
Could schools close again in Scotland?
Schools will close, as normal, on 23 December for the Christmas holidays but will not reopen as expected in the first week of January.
Announcing the Boxing Day lockdown and new strain concerns on Saturday, 19 December, Nicola Sturgeon told how schools will not return on 7 January.
Instead online classes will be scheduled for the week commencing 11 January and a phased return will begin on 18 January.
All teachers will return to work as scheduled and as planned from 4 January, as outlined by local authorities.
The First Minister stressed that schools will remain shut until “at least until the 18 January” - therefore there is no guarantee schools will reopen on this date.
It is hoped the reduction of children in the classroom due to the holidays could help keep the virus at a much lower level in Scotland than what has been witnessed in England.