At a time when England has begun the long awaited vaccination drive, a new variant of Coronavirus has emerged in some parts of the country. It is found to be growing at a faster rate, as some British Members of Parliament have been informed.
A New Threat
The new variant, called ‘VUI-202012/01’ by UK scientists, has mutations which include changes to the important “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 corona virus uses to infect human cells. However, it is yet to be determined whether the new strain is more infectious.
“Efforts are underway to confirm whether or not any of these mutations are contributing to increased transmission,” stated the scientists from the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG UK) Consortium.
1108 COVID-19 cases with the new strain have been detected predominantly in 60 different local authority areas in the south and east of England, as reported by Public Health England (PHE).
The country will be placed under strict restrictions from 16th December. UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock told the parliament that “swift and decisive” actions were needed as the doubling rate of COVID-19 has hit only in seven days in many parts of London.
He added, “I must stress at the point that there is currently nothing to suggest that the variant is more likely to cause serious disease, and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.”
Even so, London will move to Tier 3 “very high alert” local restrictions from today. All venues of hospitality, including restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes will be shut except for takeout and delivery. Indoor entertainment centers like bowling alleys and cinema theaters will remain closed. People will not be able to commute to and from Tier 3 areas.
London residents are barred from meeting in private gardens or other outdoor venues. They are permitted to meet outside at parks, public gardens and sports facilities. Retailers can stay open.
Experts have taken on an optimistic approach when it comes to the current efforts of battling the pandemic. “Just because there has been a small change in the virus’ genetic make-up does not mean it is any more virulent, nor that vaccines won’t be effective,” stated Tom Solomon, Professor of neurology at the University of Liverpool.
Mutations or genetic variations emerge naturally in all viruses. According to COG-UK genetics specialists, “many thousands of mutations have already arisen in the SARS-CoV-2 genome since the virus emerged in 2019.” Susan Hopkins, a PHE medical advisor, said it is not “unexpected that the virus should evolve and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk.”