LONDON (Reuters) – British scientists are trying to establish that a new type of virus causes a rapid spread in southern England in the COVID-19 strain, linked to those important mutations Has happened, he said on Tuesday.
The mutation includes changes in the critical “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to infect human cells, a group of scientists tracking the virus’s genetics said, but it is not yet clear Whether this is making it more contagious.
Scientists from the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium said in a statement, “To confirm whether any of these mutations contribute to the increase is being confirmed.
The new version, dubbed “VUI – 202012/01” by UK scientists, includes a genetic change to the “spike” protein, which – in theory – could spread more easily among people as a result of COVID-19 is.
The British government on Monday cited an increase in new infections, stating that it may be partially linked to the new version, as it moved its capital city and several other areas to the highest level of COVID-19 restrictions.
As of 13 December, the new version had been identified with 13,108 COVID-19 cases, mainly in the south and east of England, Public Health England said in a statement.
But there is currently no evidence that variants are more likely to cause severe COVID-19 infection, scientists said, or that the vaccines would be less effective.
“Both questions require further study at a faster pace,” COG-UK scientists said.
Mutations, or genetic changes, occur naturally in all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, as they replicate and transmit in human populations.
According to COS-UK genetics experts, in the case of SARS-CoV-2, these mutations are accumulating globally at the rate of one to two mutations per month.
“As a result of this on-going process, several thousands of mutations have already been generated in the SARS-CoV-2 genome since the virus emerged in 2019,” he said.
Most of the mutations observed so far have had no apparent effect on the virus, and only a minority are likely to alter the virus in any significant way – for example, it makes people more capable of infecting, causing serious illness. Is more likely to be the cause, or less sensitive to natural or vaccine-induced immune defenses.
“It is not unexpected that the virus should develop and it is important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk,” said PHE medical consultant Susan Hopkins.
He added that the new versions are “being explored in a wide geography, particularly where increased cases are being detected.”
Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Philip Fletcher