The new strain of the coronavirus, which is spreading in the south-east of England, has caused the British government to significantly curtail plans to loosen restrictions for Christmas, and more European countries to stop passenger traffic with the UK.
For now, with regard to VUI-202012/01, because such a designation has been given a new variety, there are more unknowns than known, although the fact that it spreads faster than the current one is highly probable.
It is normal for viruses, including coronaviruses, to constantly mutate, so the mere fact that these mutations result in a new strain is not unexpected. It has happened in the past. The virus that dominates the world today is no longer the same as the one first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The D614G mutation appeared in Europe in February and has become the dominant form of the virus globally. The spread of another, A222V, is linked to a summer vacation in Spain.
What causes VUI-202012/01 to be of concern are three factors that occur: it quickly replaces other versions of the virus, it has mutations that are likely to affect an important part of the virus, some of these mutations, as already shown in laboratory studies, increase the ability to the virus to infect cells. This together forms the hypothesis that the new version of the virus spreads more easily.
This variant is extremely strongly mutated. The published initial analysis of the new option identified 17 potentially significant changes. The most likely explanation is that this variant appeared in a patient with a weakened immune system who was unable to defeat the virus. Instead, his body became a breeding ground for the mutation of the virus.
According to the researchers, there is no evidence that the new variant causes more mortality than the current variant, although this will still need to be monitored. However, just increasing the spread is enough to cause problems for hospitals. If a new variant means more people are infected faster, it will lead to more people needing hospital treatment.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, justifying limiting the planned loosening of restrictions for the Christmas period, said that the new variant was moved by 70 percent. faster than before and can increase the R value - the coefficient representing the rate of virus transmission - by 0.4. However, according to the published records of the NERVTAG government advisory board meeting, this increase in R value may be as high as 0.93. It is noted that VUI-202012/01 has shown the ability to grow rapidly despite an ongoing nationwide lockdown when people-to-people contacts were limited.
The new variant was first found in October in a sample taken in September. The variant is believed to have either appeared in a patient in the UK or was imported from a country with a lower capacity to monitor the coronavirus mutation. By 13 December, 1,108 cases of the new variant had been detected in almost 60 different administrative units in the UK. This option has been confirmed nationwide with the exception of Northern Ireland, but is heavily concentrated in London, South East and East England. As it seems, in other parts it did not dominate the previous version. In November, the new variant accounted for about a quarter of the cases in London. In mid-December it was almost two-thirds.
Cases of this variant originating in Great Britain have already been found in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.
According to the researchers, the developed vaccines against the coronavirus will almost certainly be effective also for the new strain. Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus, so even if some of them have mutated, the vaccines should still work. But scientists also point out that the virus has already mutated the first step towards escaping the vaccine effect. If this happens, it will be similar to the flu situation where vaccines have to be updated regularly. However, those vaccines that were developed against the coronavirus are easy to improve.
From London Bartłomiej Niedziński (PAP)