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New Strain of Corona virus discovered in the UK

The latest strain is discovered in the UK, which is 70% more infectious than the original coronavirus.

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The novel corona virus took us by storm, most of us had not e expected mutations beyond the first strain discovered in 2019. Presently, we have about 20 existing mutations, with 2 coming to the forefront everyone month. The latest strain is discovered in the UK, which is 70% more infectious than the original coronavirus.

To understand why this is happening, the entire mechanism of COVID 19 must be understood. Coronaviruses have all their genetic material in the RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) of the cell. Once it enters the body, the RNA multiplies in the cell, by making multiple copies of itself. If there is an error while copying, scientists call it mutation. This happens at random with viruses while multiplying. If the mutation accelerates the spread of virus, it is called “super spreader”. This is the bracket the latest Coronavirus mutation comes under. 

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, said UK has alerted WHO that new COVID-18 variant appears to be accelerating the spread of COVID 19. The new strain is named VUI-(Virus Under Investigation) 202012/01 or B1.1.7 lineage. Seeing the gravity of the situation, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has imposed tier 4 lockdown in the country, which is lockdown of the most severe kind, that is, all non-essential services will be shut down. These include gathering halls, salons etc. More than 16 million Brits will be required to stay home. Earlier a relaxation around Christmas was supposed to happen, with 3 families allowed to gather at one place. All such relaxations have been withdrawn. London has become a hotspot, with people in the city planning mass exodus. The 

Impact of UK corona virus can be seen at an international front as well. Stock market crash was the most immediate reaction, given that economic activities slowed down. This was also the case when news of coronavirus hit the market for the first time. Also, Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy announced they were temporarily halting flights from the UK to prevent further spread.

Speculation is rife that it is 70% more contagious than original Covid-19. However, some scientists question the credibility of this data.  This is because the 70% number has not emerged from a lab that has tested sample, but is based on some data and a lot of presumption. It is speculated that the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium which will come out with a full critique for peer review and public discussion. We are thus waiting for scientific experiments and conclusion. COG-UK has identified the variants as “N501Y” which binds to ACE2 receptor of human cell. This was an indication, theoretically that the virus will be deadly. The genome sequencing reveals it to be more transmissible. On December 18, New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) which advises UK government, said it will ramp up reproduction number of this virus by 0.93. The expert body has however said they cannot conclude given the insufficient data. It said only 4 out of 1000 deaths are due to this mutation. On the bright side, there is currently no evidence that Pfizer vaccine will not work on this new strain.

In reaction to the speculation, India has banned flights from UK. However, to allay fears, Dr VK Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog noted during a press briefing that this mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease. “Case fatality is not affected by this mutation," he said. Thus, we have to only exercise usual caution without causing panic. In fact, India’s COVID-19 R number (it is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.) has been decreasing in the last one week. 

Viruses mutating is a common phenomenon. This is also not the first time COVID 19 is taking new forms. Another strain had emerged among Spanish farm workers earlier this year named 20A. The severity of the new mutant is yet to be established. Nevertheless, we must exercise precaution. 

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