As if the current coronavirus pandemic was not enough to deal with, news recently came out that the United Kingdom (UK) has seen cases of a new variant of COVID-19.
A few days ago, reports came out that the south-east part of England saw patients coming in with a new variant of coronavirus.
The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, on 15th December, told the House of Commons that “We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas. We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
Hancock stated that it was this new variant that was behind the mysterious increase of coronavirus infections in regions including London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
It was also reported that the World Health Organization has also been notified about this variant and UK scientists have also started their research into it.
What Is This New Variant Of COVID-19?
While research is still going into this new variant, as per certain scientists from the UK, this new COVID-19 has been named “VUI 202012/01”.
The variant is some type of mutation of the existing coronavirus infection and includes a genetic mutation of the ‘spike’ protein. It is this mutation that is causing the extremely swift and easy spread of the infection among people.
According to reports, the variant found in certain areas of England has been noted to have 17 mutations that alter the shape of the virus.
Professor Nick Loman from the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham, who is also a part of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium (COG-UK), explained it saying, “There is actually 17 changes that would affect the protein structure in some way that distinguish this variant from it’s kind of common ancestor of other variants that are circulating, which is a lot.”
As of now, scientists are not really panicking and are suggesting that people should not panic either.
Viruses are known to mutate and even with COVID, this was a big possibility and thus not a shock. However, the more important thing is to focus on whether this mutation has changed the behaviour of the virus or not.
There is also not much clarity over the severity of infections caused by this new coronavirus strain.
It is also not known whether this new mutation can defeat the COVID vaccine or not.
However, some reports are stating that this is a possibility, as the current coronavirus vaccine was developed to target a specific kind of spike protein.
Now that there is a mutation of that protein itself, and the new variant can allegedly change the shape of the protein too, there could be some issues with how effective the vaccine would prove to be.
On the other hand though, the UK Health secretary has also stated that it is not very likely that even this new COVID strain could evade the immune response that is caused by the vaccine.
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