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Fauci says U.K. variant may account for up to 30% of U.S. coronavirus infections

The coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom may account for up to 30% of new COVID infections across the U.S., NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing on the virus Friday.

Why it matters: The variant, called B.1.1.7, has been detected throughout the U.S., and studies have suggested it appears to spread more easily than the original strain of the virus.

Context: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in January that the B.1.1.7 variant could become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. this month.

  • The news comes after multiple states across the country have relaxed or rolled back their coronavirus restrictions.

What he's saying: "This variant, as you know, is everyday getting more and more dominant in our own country," Fauci said. “We’re at a position right now where we have a plateauing at around 53,000 cases per day."

  • “The concern is that throughout the country there are a number of states, cities, regions that are pulling back on some of the mitigation methods that we’ve been talking about: the withdrawal of mask mandates, the pulling back to essentially non-public health measures being implemented," he added.
  • Fauci said the best way to counter the variant is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible while maintaining public health measure to prevent the spread of the virus.

The big picture: Multiple European countries are currently managing a surge of cases as a result of variants.

  • Italy entered another lockdown this week that is expected to last at least through Easter weekend.
  • Regions across France, including Paris, entered month-long lockdown on Friday.
  • German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned Friday that COVID-19 cases are spiking at an "exponential rate" in the country and there may not be enough vaccine doses available to avoid a third wave.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said last week he believes the U.S. could face another surge from the B.1.1.7 variant.

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