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What we know about the new coronavirus variant

new coronavirus variant

The rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus has caused chaos in the UK with India also joining other countries in imposing a travel ban against Britain to ward off the danger. It is more virulent rapidly replacing other versions of the virus. It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important. It was first detected in September.

In November, around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the variant may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

However, research is still on and scientists, whose work is not yet public, have informed the media could be much lower than 70 per cent. How far has it spread? It is thought the variant either emerged in a patient in the UK or has been imported from a country with a lower ability to monitor coronavirus mutations. The variant can be found across the UK, except Northern Ireland, but it is heavily concentrated in London, the South East and eastern England. Cases elsewhere in the country do not seem to have taken off, according to a BBC report.

On Saturday France confirmed the first case in the country of the more contagious coronavirus variant recently identified in the UK. The French health ministry said the person was a French citizen who had arrived from London on 19 December. Earlier Australia had also reported a few cases of such infections in travellers returning from the UK. A similar variant that has emerged in South Africa shares some of the same mutations, but appears to be unrelated to this one. An initial analysis of the new variant has been published and identifies 17 potentially important alterations.

How did it originate ?

The variant is unusually highly mutated. The most likely explanation is the variant has emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus. Instead their body became a breeding ground for the virus to mutate.

Is it more deadly?

There is no evidence to suggest that it does, although this will need to be monitored. However, rapid transmission would be enough to overwhelm hospitals.

Can vaccines fight it?

Almost certainly yes, or at least for now. All leading vaccines including those of Pfizer BioNtech and AstraZeneca-Oxford develop an immune response against the existing spike. Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus, so even though part of the spike has mutated, the vaccines should still work..