Matt Hancock, U.K. The Health Secretary said in a Dec. 14 statement to Parliament that a new coronavirus strain had been identified in SEE (southeast England). He said the newly found strain of SARS-CoV-2 appears to be spreading rapidly than other prevailing strains of the virus.
So far, over a thousand cases caused by the new coronavirus variant have been identified, mainly in the SEE of England, Hancock said. However, the numbers are “increasing quickly.”
The WHO (World Health Organization) has been briefed about the development, he said, and PHE (Public Health England) is continuing its evaluation of the condition.
Hancock also underlined that there’s no sign that the new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 is likely to result in more severe disease. Furthermore, Hancock said it’s “improbable” that it won’t respond to a vaccine. However, it’s necessary to continue to be vigilant, he said.
What is a mutation?
A mutation refers to the change in the genetic sequence of the virus. When a virus makes billions of copies of itself and moves from host to host, not every replica is similar. These little mutations pile up as the virus is passed on.
Coronaviruses mutate all the time. So it is not unexpected that new variations of Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) are emerging; we see this all the time in other animal and human coronaviruses .
Is it deadly?
There has been no evidence to indicate that the mutant coronavirus strain is more fatal. However, this new virus strain could be seventy percent more transmissible.
Is it spreading rapidly?
The new mutant strain appears to be spreading quickly – The first case was identified in Sep, but in Nov, around a quarter of London cases were the mutant ones, the BBC reported. In mid-December, the figure increased to nearly two-thirds.
A similar variant has emerged in S.A. (South Africa) with similar mutations but appears to be a different strain.
What does it mean that there’s a new strain of coronavirus?
There isn’t a strict definition of what a “new” strain is.
In general, it infers that the virus is distinctive in either how it interacts with the immune system or the way it spreads due to one or more mutations . Scientists can identify new strains because they regularly sequence the virus’s genetic material to look for changes.
When we see those changes in individuals who have a slightly different condition or who can more rapidly spread the virus to others, we would consider that a new strain. It’s more about the impact of those changes rather than just having the changes to start with.
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Should we be concerned about this?
Not necessarily. Viruses mutate all the time. It’s a natural, regular occurrence that happens as the virus replicates. Just because there’s a mutation doesn’t mean there is cause for worry .
Many mutations do not affect the virus, as there is a lot of redundancy in the genetic code. Some are harmful and make it more challenging for the virus to spread, and those will quickly disappear from the population. The ones that help it spread more easily or survive are the ones we are bothered about.
If that strain spreads more freely or causes more severe disease, it would be worrying. But mutations that can do that are unusual. That is why we have not been talking about thousands of different strains of the virus with varying spread and severity .
Regarding the new strain identified in the U.K., the mutations are in the spike protein, allowing it to spread more quickly. If it spreads more readily, we are going to be concerned about it. However, it is still being researched whether this is certainly the case.
Will the vaccines still be effective against the new strain?
It’s unlikely that the new strain will impact whether the vaccines work. As they develop vaccines, they know that the virus is a moving target, so that is built into the design. They don’t understand what this mutation means yet, let alone if it will affect the vaccine efficacy. However, it is unlikely that it will.
Continued vigilance is important
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s necessary to remain vigilant, no matter where we are. Even if we’ve already been vaccinated or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, it’s necessary to continue to follow all recommended precautions.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends washing your hands, wearing a mask, and physically distancing to protect yourself and others. The CDC says this should continue into the indefinite future.
We’re still learning about what type of protection vaccines will offer and how long immunity will last. And there’s the possibility that we may even catch or transmit the virus. Until we know more, it’s sensible to continue to follow all precautions.
He noted, “So this situation is not in that sense uncontrollable. But it cannot be left to its mechanisms.”
How common is this variant?
It is believed to have been first recognized in Sep. By Nov, around a quarter of cases in London were of the new variant. However, by mid-December, nearly 2/3rd’s of cases in London were of the new virus. The number of cases in London doubled over the past few weeks, with at least sixty percent of the infections being from this form.
How was it detected?
The new form was picked up by the COG-UK (COVID-19 Genomics U.K.) The consortium, which undertakes random genetic sequencing of positive coronavirus samples around the United. Kingdom. The consortium is a partnership of the U.K.’s 12 academic institutions, four public health agencies, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
The new coronavirus variation is not yet out of control and can be controlled using prevailing measures. WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan said, “We’ve had a much better (contamination rate) at different points in this crisis (pandemic), and we have got it under control,”