A highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the UK could become the dominant strain in the US by March, health officials have said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of “rapid growth” of the variant in coming weeks.
It said such a spike could further theaten health systems already strained by a winter Covid surge. The warning came on Friday as President-elect Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious plan to ramp up vaccinations.
In its report, the CDC said that the UK variant would spread quickly in the coming weeks.
The latest research by Public Health England (PHE) suggests the variant – now dominant in much of Britain – is between 30% and 50% more transmissible than previous strains. There is currently no evidence to suggest it causes any more serious illness.
Experts have also played down the possibility that the current vaccines will not be as effective against it.
So far, 76 people from 10 US states have been confirmed to have been infected with the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7.
But the CDC said: “The modelled trajectory of this variant in the US exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.”
Two other variants – one from South Africa and one from Brazil – are also thought to be more contagious than the original one that started the pandemic. Studies are under way to assess the threat they pose.
The US has recorded the highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections – 23.5 million – of any country in the world. At about 391,000, the country’s coronavirus deaths account for a fifth of the global total, which passed the two-million mark on Friday.
The crisis is particularly acute in the state of California, where deaths have surged by more than 1,000% since November.