Bells are ringing across the UK today, alarm bells, not church bells, as many experienced scientists and medical professionals are extremely concerned that Christmas Day mixing in the current context will create thousands of dangerous super-spreading events, Dr Joe Pajak writes.

First published in December 2020.

If that wasn’t warning enough of the challenge we face, the notes from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG/SPI-M) Extraordinary meeting on 21 December 2020, on the SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern (variant B.1.1.7), provided others, two in particular being:

The other meeting to note at this point is that of Independent SAGE, who met last night to discuss the worsening pandemic crisis in the UK. Independent SAGE is a group of scientists whose aim is to provide transparent advice during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tweeting earlier today, the group summed up their discussions with their professional assessment that the entire UK needs to go into Tier 4 TODAY.”

The group explained in its tweet that the rationale for this view was that “the government admits Tiers 1-3 cannot contain the virus”; and given the situation they “fear Christmas Day mixing in context of a new strain will create thousands of dangerous super-spreading events.”

In the meantime, while we wait for the government to take more decisive action, Professor Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research, Director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, and a member of Independent SAGE, recommends that those interested and/or concerned about how we should behave in light of the new variant to keep safe, might like to refer to the series of tweets by Dr Adam Squires, a Biophysical Chemist at the University of Bath.

Adam Squires has provided some helpful advice regarding this new COVID variant and how we should behave to be safe.

Dr Adam Squires
Biophysical Chemist at the University of Bath.

The new COVID variant and how we should behave to be safe. tl;dr: it hasn't acquired resistance to anything; soap, distancing, masks and fresh air all still work; but we should act like people indoors are giving off more than they were.

First the science: the new variant is surrounded by the same lipid coating so still killed by washing hands with warm water + soap. Infection still carried in the same tiny droplets given off when breathing / talking; fresh air / masks / distance still reduce this transmission.

Difference is in the protein it makes and how it interacts with our bodies. Somehow easier to infect. So, either infected people breathe out more virus, or you need to breathe in less virus to get infected. But the actions we need to take are the same either way.

Before, for people indoors, I'd have suggested doing three out of: open windows; masks; short meeting (<20 minutes); >2m. Each cuts down the levels of virus in the air around five-fold. Now I'd suggest all four to be safe.
Previous thread:


Before I'd have said outdoors completely safe ("1m plus"); now I'd make sure to stay 2m away or wearing a mask if sitting outside talking to someone. But going for a walk together still safe.

Also, no more likely to survive on surfaces (same lipids and RNA) - so still low risk. (Since more known about airborne infection, infection from surfaces considered much less of a risk than previously thought; very few documented cases of infection through surfaces)

Note: previous "COVID-safe" precautions in restaurants (sanitiser, distance, visors, perspex screens) were never safe for airborne viruses, without good enough ventilation; they were based on what was known at the time, but guidance and messaging needs to change.

Helpful to note this information given the data released today, which is highlighted below, and indicates the growing problems as the virus continues to spread with dreadful impact across the UK.

Today’s data in focus

Today’s data indicate the sad fact that a further 574 people have lost their lives in the last 24 hours in the UK,   while the number of deaths in the last 14 days is at 6,543.

Note: The data for deaths attributed to Covid-19, each following a reported positive test result for Covid-19 within 28 days of their death.

The data also indicate that there have been 400,806 new cases reported in the past 14 days, around 87% more than the 14-day figures reported two weeks ago on 10 December.

Today’s 14-day trendline chart is provided below:

UK Covid-19 headline data, reported on 24 December 2020:

  • 39,036 further positive tests – the highest yet reported in one 24 hour period!
  • 574 further deaths in the last 24 hours
  • 2,143 further hospital admissions (reported as of 20/12)
  • 21,256 hospital in-patients in total (reported as of 22/12)
  • 1,529 patients on ventilation beds (reported as of 22/12)

329 days after the first case was reported in the UK, 2,188,587 cases have been reported, together with 69,625 deaths.  

However, these data include only those who have died within 28 days of testing positive; other measures suggest the number of deaths is higher: 79,349 being reported as “the total number of deaths of people whose death certificate mentioned Covid-19 as one of the causes, registered up to Friday, 11 December 2020.”🔷

Data source:

Dr Joe Pajak, Professional experience applied scientific research and development, then director of a national children’s charity, trustee of a disability charity, and governor of NHS foundation trust hospitals.

[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 24 December 2020. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]