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See how COVID’s UK variant took over the world

We cannot let our guard down. This is why we need everyone vaccinated ASAP.

See how COVID’s UK variant took over the world
[Illustration: Daniel Salo/Fast Company]
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In September of 2020, UK researchers spotted a new mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 virus—a single new variant amongst thousands of others. Dubbed the B.1.1.7 variant, it quickly proved to spread more virulently, and be even more deadly, than the original “GV” strain.

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By December, Britain’s rocketing B.1.1.7 levels caused mass hospitalizations across the country. By February, 96% of COVID cases in England were the B.1.1.7 variant, and it had spread to 59 countries around the world. Today, B.1.1.7 might be the most common COVID strain on the planet.

But what does this spread look like? A new data visualization by Reuters will walk you through B.1.1.7’s relentless global spread. You begin with a single case spotted in Kent. And by scrolling down the page, you can see as counties across England quickly become infected, too.

Explore the full infographic here. [Screenshot: Reuters]
These infections look something like measles on the map, with little red dots covering the country. That is, until those dots morph into skyscrapers. Because each red dot is really a bar graph, representing how many people are infected with B.1.1.7 in that area.

Once we see the new variant spread across England, the visualization zooms out to reveal the rest of the globe. Portugal, Denmark, and the UAE record cases in early November—right around the time that Pfizer and Moderna both announced their miraculous vaccines. By the end of December 2020, B.1.1.7 is global. From then on, the red skyscrapers simply grow.

Explore the full infographic here. [Screenshot: Reuters]

The world has largely lost the battle to B.1.1.7, with people dying from the variant every day. It has taken over by squeezing into a perfectly timed window where humanity had created the vaccines, but not yet mass produced them in order to stop it.

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However, it’s worth reiterating that we do have the vaccines to stop it. The Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna vaccines have all demonstrated effectiveness at neutralizing B.1.1.7. Which is why we need to continue pushing now, more than ever, to vaccinate as many people as quickly as we can, before these more potent COVID strains spread, or they mutate into something even worse.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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