There is a simple simple rule of thumb for sizing news reports that speak of a “new variant” or a “new strain” of coronavirus.
You have to ask yourself: “Has the behavior of the virus changed?”
A mutant virus sounds instinctively scary, but mutating and changing is what viruses do.
Most of the time it is an adjustment without consequences or the virus alters itself in such a way that it becomes weak when infecting us and the new variant simply disappears.
Every now and then, however, he comes up with a new winning formula.
At the moment there is nothing to suggest that the new variant of the coronavirus detected in south-east England – which led to the imposition of a harsh quarantine on London, large parts of the east and southeast of England and Wales – causing more severe symptoms or affecting the capacity of vaccines.
But, as British authorities announced this Saturday, thes researchones preliminaryis suggestsn what this strain, which led a dozen European countries to cancel flights from the UK, can be transmitted plus easily.
There are two reasons why scientists are watching it closely.
The first is that the levels of the variant they are taller in places where more cases have been registered.
This Saturday, by announcing new restrictions for certain areas of the country –similar to those of last March, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, explained that the spread of the virus in many parts of this region is “driven by the new variant of the virus.”
Johnson – who according to analysts reacted late in adopting measures to contain the coronavirus – reiterated that there is no evidence that the new strain causes more serious symptoms or higher mortality.
“It can be up to 70% more transmissible than the previous variant,” he added, pointing out that they are initial data and are subject to revision.
Apparently, 60% of new infections in London correspond to the new variant of the coronavirus.
What are the new restrictions
The plan to relax restrictions against COVID-19 over Christmas was scrapped in much of south-east England.
Starting at midnight this Sunday and for two weeks, residents of areas such as London, Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire, in England, They will not be able to meet with anyone who is not from their own home.
Non-essential products and services stores too must remain closed.
Other parts of England, Scotland and Wales, planned to relax their restrictions for five days, but will now only do so on Christmas Day.
The inhabitants of Wales also received an order to stay at home from midnight and in Scotland the borders were closed to visitors from other territories.
Infection rates are a red flag, although they can be interpreted in two ways.
One, that the virus could have mutated to spread more easily and it is causing more infections.
But another is that the variants can also get lucky and infect the right people at the right time.
An explanation for the spread of the “Spanish strain” During the summer, for example, it was simply that people caught it on vacation and then brought it home.
Experiments in the laboratory will be needed to find out if this variant really is more contagious than all the others.
The other topic that interests scientists is how it has mutated the virus.
“It has a surprisingly large number of mutations, more than you’d expect, and some look interesting,” said Professor Nick Loman of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK).
Two types of mutations
There are two notable sets of mutations.
Both are 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 N501 it 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 will likely give you an advantage.
“It looks and it smells like a major adaptation “said Professor Loman.
The other mutation – an H69 / V70 deletion – has arisen several times before, for example in infected minks in Denmark.
The concern has been that the antibodies in the survivors’ blood seem less effective against that variant of the virus.
But again, more lab studies will be needed to really understand what’s going on.
“We know there is a variant, we don’t know anything about what that means biologically“Said Professor Alan McNally, University of Birmingham.
“It is too early to make any inference about how important it may or may not be,” he added.
What about vaccines?
Mutations in the spike protein lead to questions about the vaccine because the three main candidates – those developed by Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford / Astra Zeneca – train the immune system to attack the spike.
However, the body learns to attack multiple parts of the beak. That is why health officials continue convinced that thes vaccines it will workn against this variant.
This is a virus that evolved in animals and made the leap to infecting people about a year ago.
Since then, they have been detected nail two mutations per monthTake a sample today and compare it to the first ones from Wuhan in China and there would be around 25 mutations difference.
The coronavirus is still testing different combinations of mutations to properly infect humans.
We’ve seen this happen before: many consider the emergence and global dominance of another variant (G614) is an example of the best spread of the virus.
But soon mass vaccination will put a different kind of pressure on the virus, which will have to change to infect people who have been immunized.
And if this drives the evolution of the virus, we may have to regularly update vaccines, as we do with the flu.
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