Scientists add new coronavirus variant to UK watchlist after 16 cases. What do we know so far
- The coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 is currently the dominant variant in the UK and was suspected behind the renewed surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.
Scientists have identified 16 cases of another new coronavirus variant in the UK as mutations of Sars-CoV-2 continue to pose a greater threat to containment measures for the infection. Public Health England (PHE) has designated the new strain of lineage B.1.1.318 as a variant under investigation (VUI).
The health agency of the UK government on Thursday announced that cases of this new variant were first identified on February 15 through “genomic horizon scanning”. It further stated that all individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate.
Coronavirus variants are raised for formal investigation if they are considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties. The new variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, has been designated as VUI with a year, month, and number.
The variant VUI-202102/04 contains the E484K mutation, which has also been found in two existing VUIs detected in the country. However, this new variant does not feature the N501Y mutation which is present in all variants of concern (VOCs). It may be designated as VOC after a risk assessment with the relevant expert committee. Currently, Britain is tracking a total of 4 VUIs and 4 VOCs.
The coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 is currently the dominant variant in the UK and was suspected behind the renewed surge in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in the country. According to PHE, at least 108,337 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in the country so far. Some experts have predicted that B.1.1.7 is likely to drive a new wave of transmission in spring.
The scientists have also identified six cases of a new P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil, in the UK. A new modelling study has suggested that the VOC may be up to 2.2 times more transmissible and cause re-infection in people already recovered from Covid-19.
Researchers at the University of São Paulo, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, used statistical analysis of genome sequencing data to arrive at a conclusion that a second wave of infection in Brazil’s Manaus, a city thought to have a high level of existing immunity from the first wave, was associated with the emergence of the new P.1 variant. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal and is available as a preprint.