There is no “hard evidence” that a new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom is more transmissible or more infectious, a top Operation Warp Speed official said Monday.
Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for the initiative, told reporters that conclusive laboratory studies of the new variant will take at least several weeks.
“I think scientifically, today, there is no hard evidence that this virus is actually more transmissible,” Slaoui said.
Slaoui added that while there is “clear evidence” that there is more of the new variant in the population, it’s not clear if that is because it is more transmissible, or because scientists are just looking for it now, when they weren’t previously.
“Maybe, seeding happened in the shadows and we’re seeing now a surge,” Slaoui said.
He acknowledged that “maybe” it has higher transmissibility, but “what’s clear, it’s not more pathogenic.”
“The key point is that there’s no evidence this virus is more pathogenic, creates more problems, more morbidity or mortality than the previous virus,” Slaoui said.
Slaoui’s comments come as officials in the United Kingdom and Europe are tightening travel restrictions in response to a new strain of the virus, essentially cutting Britain off from the rest of the region.
New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBirx traveled over Thanksgiving weekend after warning Americans to limit celebrations to household NYC advances bill protecting fast food workers from being fired without valid reason On The Money: Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps | Deal set to include smaller stimulus checks, jobless benefit support | Biden, Powell praise progress toward agreement MORE (D) and New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioVaccination is not entire answer to COVID-19 New York City investigation finds NYPD used excessive force during George Floyd protests NYC advances bill protecting fast food workers from being fired without valid reason MORE (D) have both called on the federal government to ban travel from the U.K. as well.
The restrictions come even as the European Union’s drug authority authorized the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which will allow it to be distributed to all member countries.
Health experts are confident the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will still be effective against the new strain.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the new variant is up to 70 percent more contagious than other strains, but the estimate was based on projections and modeling only, and has not been confirmed in a lab.
Slaoui said demonstrating enhanced transmissibility of the virus would take several weeks of animal trials.
Federal officials, including Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTravel industry readies for disappointing Christmas Fauci urges people to wear masks even if family members get vaccinated Fauci tells children: ‘I vaccinated Santa Claus myself’ MORE, have said it’s worth monitoring the situation, but have cautioned against overreacting.