A new strain of the virus that causes Covid-19 had been identified in England which may be associated with a faster spread of infections.
British scientists are trying to establish whether the rapid spread in southern England of a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is linked to key mutations they have detected in the strain, they said on Tuesday.
The mutations include changes to the important “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to infect human cells, a group of scientists tracking the genetics of the virus said, but it is not yet clear whether these are making it more infectious.
Efforts are underway to confirm whether or not any of these mutations are contributing to increased transmission, the scientists, from the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, said in a statement.
The new variant, which UK scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01” includes a mutation in the viral genome region encoding the spike protein, which in theory could result in COVID-19 spreading more easily between people.
The British government on Monday cited a rise in new infections, which it said may be partly linked to the new variant, as it moved its capital city and many other areas into the highest tier of COVID-19 restrictions.
The UK government announced that London and parts of Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire will face Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday following very sharp, exponential rises in cases while Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the new variant of Covid-19 is growing faster than the existing variants already found in the population.
About new Covid-19 mutation England Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said
that this faster spread may not be a result of cause and effect.
Is it getting more frequent because it’s in a part of the country where the rate of increase is going faster anyway or is it that this virus itself is possible to transmit more easily? That isn’t really yet clear,” Whitty said yesterday.
He said there is no evidence the strain is more dangerous or that symptoms are any worse or different.
Whitty also said the current Covid-19 test works for this variant and it would be surprising if the vaccines already in development were not effective against it.
There is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe COVID-19 infections, the scientists said, or that it would render vaccines less effective.
SARS-CoV-2 has mutated some 4,000 times already but is doing so at a much slower rate in comparison with other viruses.
There is always a risk that it could change it in such a way that it might not be recognised by the antibodies that are in the vaccine but that does not seem to be the case, McKee told.
What I can say is that coronavirus, like many other viruses, mutate all the time.
Without the presence of community immunity – that’s because we don’t have herd immunity and won’t have for many, many months – the virus essentially is free to change and become more comfortable with the humans with which it is living.
That’s what the virus is doing it is learning how to become slightly better at living with us and becoming slightly more infectious. But that does not mean it’s harming us more or causing more severe illness in people.
New UK Covid-19 mutation virus spread easily Fast spreading strain important
New UK Covid-19 mutation – virus spread easily Fast spreading strain in Walles and Scotland
Mutations, or genetic changes, arise naturally in all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, as they replicate and circulate in human populations.
In the case of SARS-CoV-2, these mutations are accumulating at a rate of around one to two mutations per month globally, according to the COG-UK genetics specialists.
It is important to spot the changes quickly to prevent potential risk.
The majority of the mutations seen so far have had no apparent effect on the virus, and only a minority are likely to change the virus in any significant way – for example, making it more able to infect people, more likely to cause severe illness, or less sensitive to natural or vaccine-induced immune defences.
The Covid-19 vaccines should still be reasonably effective because of their high-efficiency rates.
Professor Whitty said that tests are being carried out to confirm that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective against this variant.
In the month since detection in October the mutated virus, which has been named VUI – 202012/01, has infected 19.2% of all new Covid-19 patients in Norfolk.
Experts analysing the genetic code of the variant say it is believed to have originated in South East England and was not imported from abroad. High % was found in Scotland and Wales.
The new strain of Covid-19 have not been found outside UK
With infection spreading so fast it is possible there should be the new Covid-19 Virus mutations. Mutations will often change a gene without changing the protein it encodes.
Proteins are long chains of amino acids folded into different shapes. Each amino acid is encoded by three genetic letters, but in many cases, a mutation to the third letter of a trio will still encode the same amino acid. These so-called “silent mutations” don’t change the resulting protein.