Countries across the globe have closed their borders to entrants from the United Kingdom as fears continued to grow over the emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus that has been circulating around Britain. It began with the Netherlands over the weekend reacting to the UK announcement regarding the new strain. A number of other European nations, such as Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Romania and Ireland then followed suit by banning passenger flights from Britain.
So what do we know about the new virus mutation?
Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the fast-moving new variant of the virus is 70% more transmissible than existing strains, and appears to be driving a rapid spike in new infections in London and southern England. However, 8220;there8217;s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,8221; or that vaccines would be less effective against it, he said. Britain has alerted the World Health Organization that the new strain — identified last week — is the likely cause of the surge in infections, accounting for around 60% of London8217;s cases. Just over 1,100 COVID-19 cases with the new variant had been identified as of Sunday, according to a statement from Public Health England. The strain was also detected in South Africa last week.
Virus mutations are not unusual, and scientists have already found thousands of different mutations among coronavirus samples. However, the majority of these mutations have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or the severity of the symptoms. Last month, millions of mink were discovered to be carrying a variant of COVID-19. In October, researchers also found evidence that a coronavirus variant had originated in Spain and spread through Europe. However, neither of the strains were found to increase the spread of the disease. When the UK8217;s new strain was first detected last week, health officials were debating whether the rapid spread of the virus was due to widespread carelessness or the contagiousness of the strain itself. After further investigation, scientists found that the new strain is, in fact, significantly more transmissible.
Researchers are still evaluating whether the strain will be more or less receptive to the vaccines currently being rolled out. No formal conclusions have been made, although health authorities have said it is unlikely that the mutation would hinder the vaccines8217; effectiveness. Richard Neher of the University of Basel8217;s Biozentrum in Switzerland has said vaccines generate an immune response against several virus characteristics at the same time. Therefore, even if one of those characteristics changes, the immune system would still be able to recognize the pathogen and protect the vaccine recipient.
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