While different strains of the coronavirus have been spotted around the world throughout the pandemic, this is the first time health authorities have suggested the mutation changed the properties of the virus.
Authorities in Britain have officially confirmed the detection of a new strain of coronavirus. The finding came during genome studies of the virus in patients from southeastern England. The government added that the new variant, called VUI-202012/01, is spreading rapidly and reacted by introducing a new level of restrictions, affecting Greater London, Kent, Essex, and other cities in the region and which are effectively equal to a lockdown.
Here is what you need to know about the new strain of COVID-19 that forced London and the rest of southeastern England into another strict lockdown.
- UK health experts still have little information about the new variant of the virus and are continuing their studies, but, so far, its anomalous transmission rate suggests it spreads faster than other strains, Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty said. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that the new variant may be up to 70% more transmissible than others, but scientists are yet to confirm the numbers.
- A preliminary theory offered by British health authorities suggests the new variant sustained changes to the virus’ spike protein, which plays a vital role in the process of infecting cells in a human body.
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk down pedestrianised Regent Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
- England’s Chief Medical Officer noted that there has been no evidence to suggest the new variant is more deadly than other strains.
- He also stated that so far nothing suggests existing treatments or vaccines would be ineffective against the VUI-202012/01 strain. Health experts, however, are still conducting studies to confirm this theory.
Spread of New Strain
- At present, only 1,000 cases of the VUI-202012/01 strain have been detected in the UK, all of them in southeastern England. UK health institutions, however, are currently surveying genomes of COVID-19 found in patients elsewhere in the country to determine if it has spread outside the original zone.
- In order to prevent the strain from leaving southeastern England, as well as to stop it from spreading rampantly, the authorities introduced a new, fourth tier of restrictions in the region, which will be in effect until at least 30 December. Tier 4, created specifically to contain the new strain, includes closing all non-essential business, a “stay at home order” for citizens, but keeps objects of “communal worship” open. In addition, employees are urged to work remotely if possible.
A person walks past a window display at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, Yorkshire, Britain December 19, 2020.
- Additionally, two European states, the Netherlands and Belgium, have already cancelled all incoming flights at news of the new strain. Germany may also suspend flights from the UK as well, AFP reports.
- London announced that it has already notified the World Health Organisation about the newly-discovered variant of COVID-19. The WHO, in turn, stated that it would be working closely with the UK to study the VUI-202012/01 strain, promising to alert the rest of the organisation’s members about the results, characteristics of the new variant, and its implications.