Last week, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant was revealed to be the rationale behind the rapid surge in Covid-19 cases in South and East England. it’s being mentioned as VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the B.1.1.7 lineage.
“Over the previous couple of days, because of our world-class genomic capability, we’ve identified a replacement variant of the coronavirus, which can be related to the faster spread within the South of England,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of commons on December 14. UK authorities have already notified the planet Health Organization about the variant.
Public Health England (PHE) announced that 1,108 cases with this variant are identified as of December 13, “predominantly within the South and East of England”. “PHE is functioning with partners to research and plans to share its findings over subsequent 2 weeks,” it said.
What is the variant like?
The variant was identified in genomic surveillance by COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK), a consortium that analyses genome sequencing data from the united kingdom . COG-UK is that the largest contributor to the worldwide Covid-19 database GISAID.
The variant is that the results of multiple mutations within the spike protein of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, also as mutations in other genomic regions of the RNA virus. Preliminary analysis suggests that it’s more transmissible than previously circulating variants. COG-UK identified one among these mutations as “N501Y”, in a neighborhood of the spike protein that binds to a key protein within the human cell, the ACE2 receptor. This was a sign that the alterations may, theoretically, end in the virus becoming more infectious. “Efforts are underway to verify whether or not any of those mutations are contributing to increased transmission,” the consortium said.
On Sunday, PHE said data from whole-genome sequencing, epidemiology and modelling suggests that the new variant “transmits more easily than other strains”.
However, it also emphasised that there’s “no evidence” that the variant is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality. “… But we are continuing investigations to know this better,” it said. It said mortality may be a “lagging indicator” and it’ll “continually monitor this over the approaching weeks”.
PHE has said it doesn’t know yet the mechanism for this increase in transmission. “We know that mutations within the spike protein, the a part of the virus that creates it infectious, can change how the virus interacts with human cells,” it said.
It said the evidence shows that infection rates in geographical areas where this particular strain has been circulating have increased faster than expected, and therefore the modelling evidence has demonstrated that this variant features a higher transmission rate than other variants in current circulation.