LONDON, Dec 15 (Reuters) – British scientists are attempting to ascertain whether or not the fast unfold in southern England of a brand new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is linked to key mutations they’ve detected within the pressure, they mentioned on Tuesday.
By Kate Kelland
The mutations embrace modifications to the essential “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus makes use of to contaminate human cells, a gaggle of scientists monitoring the genetics of the virus mentioned, however it’s not but clear whether or not these are making it extra infectious.
“Efforts are underneath approach to affirm whether or not or not any of those mutations are contributing to elevated transmission,” the scientists, from the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, mentioned in an announcement.
The brand new variant, which UK scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01” features a genetic mutation within the “spike” protein, which – in idea – might end in COVID-19 spreading extra simply between folks.
The British authorities on Monday cited an increase in new infections, which it mentioned could also be partly linked to the brand new variant, because it moved its capital metropolis and lots of different areas into the best tier of COVID-19 restrictions.
As of Dec. 13, 1,108 COVID-19 circumstances with the brand new variant had been recognized, predominantly within the south and east of England, Public Well being England mentioned in an announcement.
However there’s at the moment no proof that the variant is extra more likely to trigger extreme COVID-19 infections, the scientists mentioned, or that it will render vaccines much less efficient.
“Each questions require additional research carried out at tempo,” the COG-UK scientists mentioned.
Mutations, or genetic modifications, come up naturally in all viruses, together with SARS-CoV-2, as they replicate and flow into in human populations.
Within the case of SARS-CoV-2, these mutations are accumulating at a charge of round one to 2 mutations per thirty days globally, based on the COG-UK genetics specialists.
“Because of this on-going course of, many 1000’s of mutations have already arisen within the SARS-CoV-2 genome for the reason that virus emerged in 2019,” they mentioned.
Nearly all of the mutations seen thus far have had no obvious impact on the virus, and solely a minority are more likely to change the virus in any important method – for instance, making it extra capable of infect folks, extra more likely to trigger extreme sickness, or much less delicate to pure or vaccine-induced immune defences.
Susan Hopkins, a PHE medical advisor, mentioned it’s “not surprising that the virus ought to evolve and it’s essential that we spot any modifications shortly to grasp the potential threat.”
She mentioned the brand new variant “is being detected in a large geography, particularly the place there are elevated circumstances being detected.” (Reporting by Kate Kelland; modifying by Philippa Fletcher)