New coronavirus strain: what we know so far?

Dr. Amir Petrus Dawood

Is there a new strain of coronavirus?

A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is thought to be driving increased transmission of the disease in parts of the UK. The government has placed some regions including London under new, stricter coronavirus restrictions, known as Tier 4.

How dangerous is the new strain of COVID-19 19?

There is no evidence of increased severity of symptoms or higher fatality rates from the new strain, while researchers and public-health officials have expressed confidence that the change in the strain shouldn’t affect the efficacy of the vaccines available

Is the new strain of COVID-19 more deadly?

So far there have been no evidence to suggest that the mutant coronavirus strain is more deadly.

Is there a new variant of COVID-19 in the UK?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is in “close contact” with UK officials over the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus. The new variant is spreading more rapidly than the original version, but is not believed to be more deadly.

A new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is spreading in Britain and prompting high levels of concern, especially among the country’s European neighbors, some of which have cut transport links. The variant is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge, but is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the United Kingdom, based on modelling.

Virus mutations seen so far

In April, researchers in Sweden found a virus with two genetic changes that seemed to make it roughly two times more infectious, said Dr. Ravi Gupta, who studies viruses at the University of Cambridge in England. About 6,000 cases worldwide have been reported, mostly in Denmark and England.

The cause for concern

In this case, the new variant has rapidly become the dominant one in cases of COVID-19 in parts of southern England, and has been linked to an increase in hospitalization rates, especially in London and in the adjacent county of Kent.

While it was first seen in Britain in September, by the week of Dec. 9 in London, 62 per cent of COVID-19 cases were a result of the new variant. That compared to 28 per cent of cases three weeks earlier.

The governments of Australia, Italy and the Netherlands said they had detected cases of the new variant. It was identified in the Netherlands in early December.There is no evidence the mutated variant of the virus increases the severity of the disease, although it is more transmissible, officials with the World Health Organization said on Monday, citing U.K. analysis.

Will the current vaccines offer protection?

Scientists say there’s no evidence that the vaccines being deployed in the U.K. — made by Pfizer-BioNTech — or other COVID-19 shots in development will not protect against this variant. Vaccines produce wide-ranging responses by the immune system beyond just those to the spike protein, several experts noted.

The two front-runner vaccines in the U.S., developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are mRNA vaccines that are engineered to attack the coronavirus’s spikes based on its genetic information

Will current COVID-19 tests detect the new variant?

One of the mutations in the new variant affects one of three genomic targets used by some PCR tests. This means that in those tests, that target area, or “channel,” would come up negative. Since PCR tests generally detect more than one gene target, however, a mutation in the spike protein only partly affects the test, reducing that risk of false negative results.

What should people do differently?

Health officials say the best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules: wash your hands, wear a face covering and keep physically distant from others.

Source : CBC NEWS, WHO, CP24

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