Just as vaccines are rolling out for the current COVID-19 virus that are roughly 94% effective, a new variation of the disease has surfaced.
The United Kingdom has identified a new, potentially more contagious coronavirus variant linked to a recent surge in cases in England.
The new variant is being called VUI-202012/01 — the first “Variant Under Investigation” in the UK in December 2020. Scientists are scrambling now for more information about the variant.
Some are saying it reacts more quickly upon contact and others are saying that it’s more contagious than the current virus we know most about.
The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group said it had “moderate confidence” that this new variant “demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants.”
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said this particular variant “contains 23 different changes,” which he described as an unusually large number. Whitty said the variant was responsible for 60% of new infections in London, which have nearly doubled in the last week alone.
What Is A Variant
To better understand what this is, we need to comprehend what a variant is.
It’s not uncommon or unusual to see multiple strains of the same virus. For example, swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with influenza viruses that normally circulate in swine and not people have occurred. When this happens, these viruses are called “variant viruses.” They also can be denoted by adding the letter “v” to the end of the virus subtype designation.
However, this virus is slightly different.
The variant carries a set of mutations including an N501Y mutation to part of the genetic sequence which forms the spike protein.
So far, this is no evidence that this variant makes the current disease worse or the patient’s symptoms any worse.
“There is still much we don’t know. While we are fairly certain the variant is transmitted more quickly, there is no evidence to suggest that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness. Equally, there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Public Health England says it is working to learn as much about the variant as possible. “We know that mortality is a lagging indicator and we will need to continually monitor this over the coming weeks,” the agency says.
The British variant has about 20 mutations, including several that affect how the virus locks onto human cells and infects them. These mutations may allow the variant to replicate and transmit more efficiently, said Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government.
European Union members Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands announced travel restrictions hours after Johnson’s speech.
Where is the Variant Now?
It is thought the variant either emerged in