Almost a year after news of a “mystery pneumonia” in China made headlines around the world.The UK public health experts have reported a new variant of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes COVID-19) in South East England.
Though viral mutations aren’t new or even unexpected, the concern around changes in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is understandable-worldwide, 78.1 million people have fallen sick and more than 1.7 million have died from COVID-19 infection (albeit, not from this variation of it) in under a year
The good news is that the new variant doesn’t seem to cause more severe or prolonged illness than previous versions of the virus. Public health experts in the UK and WHO are closely studying this variant, called SARSCoV-2 VUI 202012/01.
How new UK variant of Covid is different?
scientists are still trying to gauge if and how the variation will affect people. For example,
- Will the variation make the disease more or less severe?
- Will it have an impact on the effectiveness of the therapies developed so far?.
- Whether the current vaccines in development will be able to prevent this form of the infection?
- Human to human transmission of the variant may be easier and faster than before. Experts peg the increase in transmissibility at 40-70%, based on initial findings.
- There are at least 14 mutations or changes in the variant, including three deletions and changes in amino acids. Deletions in the gene sequence have a cascading effect in terms of how the virus behaves.
- Based on sequence analysis, WHO says this mutation in the UK seems to be independent of the change that occurred in South Africa and Australia.
- Some of the mutations may necessitate small changes in how we diagnose this coronavirus infection. Importantly, public health experts say that one of the three deletions in the variant will reduce the efficacy of (only those) RT-PCR tests that look for the S (spike protein) gene of SARS-CoV-2.
- RT-PCR tests for COVID-19 mostly look for structural proteins including the envelope (E) protein, the spike (S) protein, the nucleocapsid (N) proteins or specific genetic material (open reading frame).
- VUI-202012/01 has also been observed in Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands.
- A mutation called P681H has been found, and marked as biologically important, by public health researchers. This change also reflected in the receptor binding domain or RBD.