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What is the new COVID-19 mutant that's triggered fresh global panic?

Mutant coronavirus in the UK: increasing transmission is a cause for concern not only for the masses in general but also for healthcare infrastructure

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | December 21, 2020 | Updated 11:18 IST
What is the new COVID-19 mutant that's triggered fresh global panic?
New coronavirus strain in the UK

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the new mutant strain of coronavirus is 'out of control'. Britons have been asked to now stay at home and follow the strictest of coronavirus regulations. They have also been asked to restrict their Christmas celebrations. Residents have told to limit socialising to their local areas.

Meanwhile, many European countries have halted flights from the UK. The Home Ministry in India has also called for an urgent meeting to discuss the new mutant coronavirus strain.

WHAT IS THE NEW MUTANT STRAIN?

Although there is still no absolute certainty about the mutant COVID-19 strain, three things have emerged from the spread: a. It is rapidly replacing other versions of the coronavirus. b. Parts of the virus have demonstrated mutations. c. Some of these mutations have already been found to increase the ability to infect cells.

With these three factors, it is believed that the new mutant virus strain can spread easily.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the mutant coronavirus strain could be 70 per cent more transmissible.

IS IT DEADLY?

So far there have been no evidence to suggest that the mutant coronavirus strain is more deadly. Although that will need to be ascertained.

However, increasing transmission is a cause for concern not only for the masses in general but also for healthcare infrastructure.

IS IT SPREADING FAST?

As viruses go, the new mutant strain seems to be spreading fast. The first case was detected in September but in November, around a quarter of cases in London were the mutant ones, the BBC reported. In mid-December, the figure increased to nearly two-third.

Although concentrated in London and South Eastern and Eastern England, the variant has been detected across the UK.

A similar variant has emerged in South Africa with similar mutations but appears to be a different strain.

WHAT CHANGES HAVE BEEN DETECTED IN THE VIRUS?

An initial analysis identified 17 potential alterations in the virus. There have been changes in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter the body's cells. One of the mutations alter the 'receptor-binding domain', one of the most important parts of the spike. This is when the spike makes first contact with the surface of the body cells. Changes that make it easier for the virus will make it that more transmissible.

WILL THE VACCINES WORK ON THE MUTANT CORONAVIRUS STRAIN?

So far there is no evidence to suggest that they won't. Leading vaccines work by developing an immune response to the existing spike. Vaccines train the immune system to attack several parts of the virus. Even if parts of the spike mutate, the vaccines should work against the virus.

Also read: First COVID-19 vaccine shot likely in January; safety, efficacy top priority: Harsh Vardhan

Also read: Health Ministry calls urgent meeting today over spread of mutant coronavirus in UK

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