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New COVID-19 mutant in UK: Virus strain may infect children more easily, scientists fear

Scientists from the UK government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) have cautioned that the new virus strain had speedily become the dominant strain in the south of Britain, and could soon do the same across the country

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | December 22, 2020 | Updated 10:02 IST
New COVID-19 mutant in UK: Virus strain may infect children more easily, scientists fear
People hold umbrellas as they walk, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain December 16, 2020. (REUTERS)

A new mutant strain of coronavirus which is spreading rapidly in the UK could infect children more easily, scientists have warned. The new virus strain carries mutations that could imply that children are as vulnerable to becoming infected with it as adults - contrary to previous strains.

Briefing reporters on Monday regarding the latest findings, researchers from the UK government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), who are monitoring the variant, cautioned that it had speedily become the dominant strain in the south of Britain, and could soon do the same across the country.

Also Read: New COVID-19 mutant in UK: These countries have banned British flights

"We now have high confidence that dis variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK," said Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and chair of NERVTAG.

"There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children," said Neil Ferguson, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and also a member of NERVTAG.

"We haven't established any sort of causality on that, but we can see it in the data," Ferguson said, adding that "we will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward."

Also Read: India suspends flights from UK till Dec 31

The emergence of the mutated SARS-CoV-2 variant, which scientists say is up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains in the UK, has prompted some countries to close their borders with Britain and pushed large areas of the country into severe restrictions over the Christmas period.

Wendy Barclay, another NERVTAG professor and a specialist in virology at Imperial, said that among the mutations in the new variant are changes to the way it enters human cells, which may mean "that children are, perhaps, equally susceptible to this virus as adults". "Therefore, given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected," Barclay said.

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

(With inputs from Reuters.)

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