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What is the UK’s new virus variant and how worried should we be?

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(Scientists are analyzing a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to understand how it might change the transmission, disease severity, and whether it could affect vaccine efficacy.)

As if 2020 was not enough, Covid-19 has new strains and has mutated into something that we did not quite understand yet. New strains have been identified separately in the United Kingdom and South Africa. As of now, nearly 1108 cases with this new variant have been identified and the collection of samples suggests the new strain has a significant, substantial increase in transmissibility.

But does this new increased transmissibility of the virus mean it is more deadly? Not really. So this virus transmits and spreads fast. Dr. Patrik Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to UK Government said “Does it alter the disease course? For the time being, there is no evidence it causes more severe disease, causes more hospitalization, causes more trouble than the other virus. It is not uncommon for a virus to undergo mutations. The seasonal flu virus mutates every year. Variants of the Covid-19 virus have been observed in other countries, such as Spain and Denmark. Scientists say it takes time and effort to understand the full impact of a virus’s mutation.

Scientists in the UK have confirmed that a new variant of the coronavirus is spreading more rapidly in parts of England. The new mutation is known as N501Y and the new strain has been named VUI-202012/01. Researchers say it’s a mutation in the virus’s spike protein, found in its surface; the part that helps it infect cells. The new mutation has increased the protein’s ability to cling onto and enter our cells. Scientists say this new mutation allows the virus to spread 70 % faster than before.

The new strain is more contagious and in response to that the UK has imposed new lockdown rules and travel to and from the UK remains banned as of now. Similar strains have also been found in South Africa and have been found in up to 90% of the samples analyzed since November in the country. Many evolutionary scientists are worried about this mutation but the same scientists are not surprised as viruses mutate commonly but the coronavirus mutation is surely more aggressive according to experts.

According to the sources, the new variant has about 20 new mutations and some are in South Africa, some in Danish mink and according to an early report, they are showing up in people who are already immune-compromised and more importantly, the virus has now, shown decreased response to convalescent plasma.

Doctors and researchers think that for this strain to become immune to the vaccine, it will take years and so the vaccines that we do have now should work properly for those who have and will receive it. Some mutations of this virus reside in the “spike” and could make sure that the virus spreads more rapidly and of course more efficiently. However, scientists are not all sad about this mutation, the fact that this virus is evolving gives the scientists a lot more to work with and they are tracking the changes so we get to know more about this virus and can come up with even more efficient vaccines and medicines in the future.

Scientists in South Africa also noted that human behavior towards the virus is the only thing driving it and unless we change how we defend ourselves against it, the virus will keep getting stronger. The major worry remains that the vaccination of millions will make the virus more resistant if it keeps mutating like this and the fight against COVID might never be won, at least in the near future. The only thing we can do is to keep ourselves safe, listen to the lockdown rules, and wear masks so as to not spread the virus.

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