Just in time for the holiday season, a new series of coronavirus strains have been detected in the UK, Nigeria, and South Africa.
The discovery has alarmed world scientists, government officials, and travelers, just as hopeful news of the vaccine has been announced. As information of the strains progresses, here’s what experts know so far.
Why is this important?
According to health officials, the new mutated coronavirus strain spreading in the UK is more contagious than any other strains. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, claimed that the strain has an increased transmission rate. A person sick with the new strain can be expected to infect 1.5 people, she said, while the standard strain has a reproduction number of about 1.1. The UK government concurs with the findings and has stated that the virus is up to 70 percent more transmissible and is responsible for more than 60 percent of the new cases in London.
In response, the UK has declared Tier 4 restrictions in several areas in England, canceling any planned Christmas celebrations or gatherings. Figures jumped to 744 deaths across the UK this week, marking the fatalities’ record number since the 29th of April.
Several countries have also restricted global travel to and from the UK, with the US announcing for the first time that it will require a negative coronavirus test from travelers coming from the UK. The new strain has spread quickly across Europe, with Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands reporting the infection.
Nigeria and South Africa
The strain in South Africa has been reported to have modified further than the UK strain. Scientists in South Africa believe that the new mutation, known as 501Y.V2, appears to be more transmissible and affects younger people harsher. However, government officials and health advisors have advised the public to stay calm since more research is needed.
In Nigeria, the newly uncovered strain appears to be different from both the UK and South Africa’s mutations. Nevertheless, John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has urged the public to say patient as it is still too early to make any accusations of the new strain.
It comes as no surprise to scientists that there has been a mutation in the coronavirus since viruses are known continuously to change. The transformation occurs when the virus is being transmitted from person to person over a period of time. The only difficulty is predicting where the new mutations will occur and, more importantly, when. As of now, the US has not discovered any of the mutated strains in the country. However, it is possible as health officials found that the UK mutation formed back in September, and the US has allowed travelers from the UK to its border freely since then.
Moreover, there is no evidence that the mutations cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed program, has stated there hasn’t been any single mutation that would be resistant to the vaccine. Considering the original coronavirus has mutated before, and the vaccines have worked against the virus’s mutations. However, researchers are conducting tests to ensure that the current vaccines that are available can combat the new mutations.
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