(Noted News) — Now that a vaccine has been developed and deployed for the novel COVID-19 virus, British scientists are saying that a new strain of coronavirus is spreading in the UK, particularly in Kent and surrounding areas.
This new derivative has been dubbed as “VUI-202012/01,” and contains a mutation in the viral genome region encoding the spike protein, which could potentially make COVID-19 more vulnerable to spreading.
British officials said that a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, which have prompted London to impose the tightest restrictions so far ever seen, could be linked to this mutation.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s Health Secretary, said that at least 60 different municipal authorities recorded new infections from the new coronavirus mutation.
“We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.”
“We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer of the U.K., said that the swab tests currently used for detecting the regular COVID-19 strain can still be used for detecting this new strain, but that additional research was still necessary to fully understand how to defend against it.
“It is something to keep an eye on. Huge efforts are ongoing at characterizing the variant and understanding its emergence. It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time.”
Mutations in viruses are normal, and only a small percentage of them change the way the virus works by making it more contagious or more deadly. But these mutations still have to be monitored in order to better understand them and to prevent significant developments. According to British officials, this mutation falls under that umbrella because of how common and spread out it is.
Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University said:
“The genetic information in many viruses can change very rapidly and sometimes these changes can benefit the virus—by allowing it to transmit more efficiently or to escape from vaccines or treatments—but many changes have no effect at all. Even though a new genetic variant of the virus has emerged and is spreading in many parts of the U.K. and across the world, this can happen purely by chance. Therefore, it is important that we study any genetic changes as they occur, to work out if they are affecting how the virus behaves, and until we have done that important work it is premature to make any claims about the potential impacts of virus mutation.”
Dr. Lucy van Dorp, senior research fellow in microbial genomics at the UCL Genetics Institute, said:
“The possible candidates based on some of our own observations (current as of 30th November) is that this may refer to a double deletion in the coronavirus spike protein (positions 69/70) or alternatively a spike mutation in the receptor-binding domain N501Y3.”
“At the same time, it is important to remember that all SARS-CoV-2 in circulation are extremely genetically similar to one another and most mutations have no significant impact on the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2. However, genomic monitoring is essential to allow us to stay one step ahead.”
In November, scientists reported that coronavirus strains could live within animals and wildlife, and then come back to infect humans. This school of thought forced the culling of more than 17 million mink in Denmark. The Netherlands later completely banned mink farming.
It’s unclear how this new mutation will affect current measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if at all. COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high including in the United States, where the new mutation is yet to be found and 100 million doses of the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are being rolled out.