Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Prof Hugh Pennington: We have not seen evidence to support claim new Covid variant is more transmissible

Professor Hugh Pennington.
Professor Hugh Pennington.

A leading north-east microbiologist has called into question the reason behind the cancellation of eased coronavirus restrictions during the festive period.

Professor Hugh Pennington says the scrapping of the four nations-agreed five-day Christmas bubble is a necessary move, but suggests claims the new variant is pushing the virus out of control to be questionable.

The Aberdeen University professor said: “The big issue with the variant is that it’s no nastier than the first one that came in March.

“It doesn’t kill people more readily or make them any more unwell but it’s said to be more transmissible. However, that’s what we’re being told. We have not seen any evidence to back that claim up.

“We haven’t seen any data that shows the increase in England is down to the new variant rather than people just not behaving themselves. Politicians won’t want to say that.

“If this virus has mutated to become more transmissible that would be a scientific novelty.

“It could be a coincidence with it getting commoner as the infection rate goes up.”

He said the only way to be sure, ahead of waiting on retrospective studies, would be to find out if the variant is more transmissible by checking what the infected dose is of one person to compare.

Mr Pennington added: “Is it more transmissible because you only have to breathe in a smaller dose of it? Or does somebody infected with it breathe out more virus?

“That’s what they need to find out.”

The only other way to find out if people were more susceptible to this variant was through a volunteer study where you’d “pump the virus” into a room full of people…” and that’s unethical”, he added.

“It’s very hard to prove whether something is more transmissible or less. I’m not saying it’s not possible… but I would like to see more evidence.”

‘It’s a political catastrophe’

He suggested the discovery of the latest variant came at a “helpful” time for politicians.

“One cynical way of looking at it is that the mutation has come in very handy to cancel Christmas,” Mr Pennington added. “Earlier in the week the prime minister said that would be inhumane.

It’s a political catastrophe and it was entirely predictable in that we knew a five-day break was going to lead to more cases and more deaths and us paying a heavy price in January.

“The politicians knew the bubble was a bad decision and now the variant has come in and it has come as a very handy reason for cancelling those Christmas plans.

“This way it was all the virus’ fault rather than them having to reverse a bad political decision.

“I’m wary of the virus being used in this way particularly since we haven’t seen any evidence to this transmissibility claim.”

The three-week lockdown beginning on Boxing Day has also come in for criticism, with Mr Pennington having long claimed the “draconian” lockdown measures were not the answer.

Instead he’s again calling for improvements in the test and protect tracking system across Scotland and for “proper incentives” to encourage people to self-isolate properly if asked to.

“The test and protect system is not working very well, in fact it’s hardly working at all,” he added. “When it gets to a certain number of cases it’s overwhelmed.

“The only real way that we can control this virus is by self-isolation and people doing that properly.

“The whole system is defective and that’s one of the reasons the virus has taken off here and one of the big reasons we are not in control of it.

“All we are doing is responding with draconian measures that will slow it rather than stop it.

“Self-isolation is the only way we can stop the virus getting about. Until we get very good at that kind of policy and massively improve the contact tracing who knows when lockdowns will be eased.”

Already a subscriber? Sign in