Just as the world was starting to hope for vaccines to usher in a healthier 2021, United Kingdom on Sunday cautioned against a highly contagious and mutated strain of COVID-19.
The new strain is named VUI-202012/01 (the first “Variant Under Investigation” in December 2020) and is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. According to the prestigious journal Science, the ‘B.1.1.7’ variant has acquired 17 mutations all at once — a feat never seen before.
Reasons for concern?
According to the researchers, it seems that this Covid-19 variant (also dubbed as VUI-202012/01) is now starting to dominate over existing versions of the novel coronavirus. They’re also wondering how it evolved so fast.
“There’s now a frantic push to try and characterise some of these mutations in the lab,” Andrew Rambaut, a molecular evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, was quoted as saying by the magazine on Sunday.
The main worry is that the new variant is significantly more transmissible than the original strain. Researchers reported that it is 40-70 percent more transmissible. The British government said on Saturday it could increase the reproduction “R” rate by 0.4.
Other than the UK, it has been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Australia.
How has the world responded?
The United Kingdom stood shut off from the rest of Europe after several nations decided to close borders over fears of the new novel coronavirus strain. France became the first to close its border with the UK for 48 hours.
Apart from France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Italy, Netherlands, India, Belgium, Greece, Russia, Hong Kong, Israel, Argentina, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain and El Salvador have banned flights to and from the UK.
India too has joined over two dozen countries in banning inbound travel from the UK. The government also said that as a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from the UK in all transit flights — those that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 11:59 pm on December 22 — would be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the respective airports.
Will it affect vaccination and treatment?
Even though the mutation in the virus appears to be significant, experts have not found any reason to suggest that the new mutation would affect the vaccination as yet.
So there is every reason to think that the vaccines will still work against this new strain, though obviously, that needs to be tested thoroughly,” Birney said, as reported by The Guardian.