Millions of people will have to assume new restrictions due to la new variant of the coronavirus virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic detected in the United Kingdom.
UK government advisers on new infections consider, with a ‘moderate’ level of confidence, that the new strain is more contagious than other variants.
However, all research on the new variant is in an early stage and large uncertainties and a long list of unanswered questions remain.
As previously reported, viruses mutate all the time and it is vital to keep close attention to whether their behavior is changing.
1. Why is this variant a concern?
Three things come together that attract attention:
- The new strain is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus.
- You have mutations that affect a part of the virus that is probably important.
- Some of these mutations have already been shown in the laboratory to increase their ability to infect cells.
All that combined makes us talk about a virus that can spread more easily.
However, we do not have an absolute certainty.
New strains can become more common simply by being in the right place at the right time, as in the case of London, which had no highs. restrictions until very recently.
“Laboratory experiments are required, but do you want to wait weeks or months [para ver los resultados y tomar medidas para limitar la propagación]? Probably not under these circumstances, ”said Professor Nick Loman of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium.
2. How fast is it spreading?
The new strain was first detected in September.
In November, about a quarter of the cases in London were of this new variant. And by December it represented almost two-thirds of the cases.
Mathematicians carried out projections in an attempt to estimate its dangerousness. But separating what is attributed to people’s behavior and what is due to the virus is difficult.
The figure mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was that the variant can be up to 70% more transmissible.
That 70% appeared in a presentation by Dr Erik Volz of Imperial College London on Friday.
During the talk, he stated that it is “too early to say, but from what we see so far it is growing very fast.”
“It is growing faster than it grew (the previous variant) and it is important to be vigilant.”
3. Is it more contagious?
There is no “precise” figure for how much more infectious the new strain may be.
Different scientists, whose work has not yet been published, point to figures much higher and much lower than 70%.
“The amount of evidence is still woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has actually increased transmission,” said Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.
4. How far has it spread?
The variant is believed to have arisen in a patient from the United Kingdom or was imported from a country with less ability to control coronavirus mutations.
And the mutation is estimated to be very concentrated in London, the southeast and east of England. Cases in other parts of that nation do not appear to have taken off.
Data from Nextstrain, which monitors the genetic codes of viral samples around the world, suggests that the cases in Denmark and Australia come from the United Kingdom.
The Netherlands have also reported cases with the same origin.
A similar variant was detected in South Africa and shares some of the same variations, but appears to be unrelated to it.
5.This has already beenucedido before?
Yes. The virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, is not the same that is now found in most corners of the world.
The D614G mutation emerged in Europe in February and became the dominant version of the virus.
Another, called A222V, spread across Europe and was linked to people’s summer holidays in Spain.
6. What do we know about the new mutations?
An initial analysis of the new variant was performed, identifying 17 potentially important alterations.
For example, there were changes in the spike protein, which is the key that the virus uses to open the door to the cells of our body and seize them.
The mutation called N501Y alters the most important part of the peak, known as the “receptor-binding domain.”
This is where the beak first makes contact with the surface of our body cells. Any change that makes it easier for the virus to enter is likely will give you an advantage.
“It looks and smells like an important adaptation,” says Professor Loman.
According to the studies of Professor Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, it is possible that this mutation increases the infectivity in laboratory experiments.
Their studies suggest that the mutation makes the antibodies in the blood of disease survivors less effective at attacking the virus.
Gupta says that the contagion “is increasing rapidly.”
“That is what worries the government. Most scientists are concerned, ”he adds.
7. Where does it come from?
The variant of the coronavirus mutated in an unusual way.
The most likely explanation is that it arose from a patient with a weakened immune system who couldn’t beat the virus.
Instead, his body became a breeding ground for the virus to change.
8. Does it make the infection more deadly?
There is no evidence to suggest that it is, although this will need to be monitored.
However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals.
If the new variant means that more people are getting infected more quickly, that in turn can lead to more people requiring hospital treatment.
9. Will the vaccines against the new variant work?
Almost certainly yes, or at least for now.
The three most advanced vaccines develop an immune response against the spike of the virus, which is why the question arises.
These are doses that train the immune system to attack different parts of the virus, so even though one part of the virus has changed, vaccines should still work.
“But if we let it add more mutations, then we can start to worry“, Indicates Professor Gupta.
And he adds that this virus is “potentially on the way to escape the vaccine.”
“He took a couple of first steps toward that,” he says.
The ineffectiveness of a vaccine occurs when the virus changes, so it bypasses the full effect of the dose and continues to infect people.
This may be the most disturbing element of what is happening.
This variant is just the latest to show that the virus continues to adapt as it infects more and more of us.
A presentation on Friday, December 18 by Professor David Robertson, from the University of Glasgow, concluded: “The virus probably can generate mutations that they avoid the vaccine ”.
That would put us in a flu-like position, where vaccines need to be updated periodically.
Fortunately, the vaccines we have are easy to modify.
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