What we know—and what we don’t—about the UK coronavirus variant

Scientists are “confident” that the new coronavirus variant is “spreading faster” but is less deadly than other virus variants, while the cause behind it is still unclear. 

A new variant of the coronavirus has been found spreading across the UK, which is estimated to have a higher transmission rate than any other virus mutants that emerged before. The new virus strain, called VUI-202012/01, was found to be spreading at a high level in the region since December 2020 and is now prevalent in the southeast and eastern portions of England. 

The coronavirus has undergone mutations a few times since the pandemic had begun. A mutation usually occurs over time, when there’s a change in the genetic structure of a virus. The UK coronavirus variant, however, is estimated to be up to 70% more effective in spreading the viral particles than the other variants. Scientists are still unclear regarding the reasons behind such a trait in the variant but are running numbers on a few different possibilities. 

According to Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats and Advisory Group (NERVTAG), people are being infected more quickly after exposure, and it’s also possible that people might be infectious for longer. The variant had undergone an unusually high number of mutations with a total of 23 changes. According to England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, the mutation includes 17 key “non-synonymous” mutations, which are also known to change the protein sequence of one of the viral genes.

The origin of the variant is believed to have emerged in southeast England according to WHO. Additionally, Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said that “it’s not sure whether the variant originated in southeast England or whether it was introduced there from other areas.”

Although the new variant showed a higher transmission rate effectively, there’s no evidence that the variant is more deadly, according to the WHO. Now that the vaccines are out and ready for use, it’s almost certain that the vaccines might work against the variant, and that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are to double-check if the shots are effective against the variant.

However, the region, including southeast England and London, are now under strict Tier 4 COVID-19 restrictions, while dozens of countries have implemented travel bans for the UK and new quarantine and safety measures for the UK arrivals.




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