As the holiday season is approaching amidst the already grim 2020, the UK has been struck by a setback after a new strain of Coronavirus has been discovered there.
The mutated strain of COVID-19 has caused panic as scientists have said that the strain is a “superspreader” and more contagious than any previously known variant of SARS-CoV-2. Several countries including the US and India have announced restrictions on travel to/from the UK.
Here’s what we know so far about this new Coronavirus strain.
What is the new COVID-19 Strain Found In The UK?
Dubbed B.1.1.7, it’s a mutated and new coronavirus strain that has been discovered by scientists in samples collected majorly from southern England. Scientists have said that they found the B.1.1.7 strain in the samples they received back in September, so the variant has been out there unchecked for quite some time now.
What makes the new COVID-19 strain worrisome is the number of mutations its genome has acquired. According to British scientists, it has an exceptionally large number of mutations which is leading to a faster spread of the virus in places where it has been found.
According to Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, the B.1.1.7 strain has a 50% to 70% higher transmission rate in comparison to other Coronavirus variants in the UK.
How is it different from the other variants of COVID-19?
Besides the high transmission rate, what makes this variant unique and more lethal is that it affects children who were previously considered less susceptible to catch the virus.
Wendy Barclay, a professor at the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) and a specialist in virology at Imperial College of London, said that mutations have made it easy for the virus to enter the human body, thus posing a major risk to children.
“Children are equally susceptible, perhaps, to this virus as adults, and therefore given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected,” she said.
However, Public Health England (PHE) has issued a statement saying that there is no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause increased mortality rate but they are carrying out investigations to further confirm the possibilities of it.
What are the precautions you should take to prevent the new Coronavirus variant?
Researchers and medical experts say that traditional preventative measures including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and retaining high levels of hygiene are effective in avoiding this new mutation of the virus. Dr. Muge Cevik, an infectious disease specialist at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine, said “according to what we already know, it does not alter the effectiveness of social distancing, face masks, hand washing, hand sanitizers and ventilation.”
Does it impact the effectiveness of the vaccines developed already?
While medical experts and researchers are conducting tests to determine the new Coronavirus strain, there have been concerns amongst people about the effectiveness of vaccines towards the new strain. To address this concern, PHE has said, “There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Pfizer vaccine will not protect people against the new variant.”
Has the new Coronavirus strain from the UK entered India?
As of now, India has suspended flights from the UK as a preventative measure to stop the entry of the new strain in India.
To determine whether the strain has entered India already, genome sequencing of all the traveling passengers needs to be conducted. The Indian ministry has said that no genome sequencing has been conducted so far. “Therefore, it’s incorrect to say that the new strain of the coronavirus has entered India until it is established by a designated laboratory,” said the ministry.
However, experts believe that the new SARS-CoV-2 variant might have already entered India. Speaking to The Hindustan Times, Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, said: “It is likely that the new variant may have already come to India, you will find it only if you are looking for it. This is the reason why we need to scale up the number of genomic sequencing that we are doing. India has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world and it is likely that some variant like it might have generated within the country too”
New Coronavirus Strain From The UK (FAQs)
Here are the 10 symptoms of the new COVID-19 strain:
3. Loss of sense and smell
6. Loss of appetite
7. Mental confusion
9. Muscle Pains
10. Skin Rash
The UK authorities have assigned the name “VUI – 202012/01” to the new Coronavirus strain.
The new coronavirus strain has been detected in European countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium and Italy.
The new COVID-19 strain found in the United Kingdom, has mutated gene code which has led to alterations in its spike protein. This has made the strain more transmissible than previously known variants of the virus.