UK coronavirus variant ‘on course to sweep the world,’ geneticist says
Ron Votral will receive a vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on February 9, 2021 at a drive-through vaccination center in Robstown, Texas.
Go Nakamura | Reuters
LONDON – A variant of the coronavirus, which first appeared in the UK and has since been identified in over 50 countries, could become the world’s dominant form of the virus, according to the head of the UK’s genetic surveillance program.
“The new variant has taken over the country and will most likely take over the world,” said Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium.
“I think the future will be key if something (a variant) is particularly problematic with the vaccines,” she told the station’s Newcast podcast.
The group that Peacock leads, founded in April 2020, brings together highly respected experts and institutes to collect, sequence and analyze genomes of the virus as part of the UK’s pandemic response. To date, the genetic history of more than 250,000 samples of the virus has been followed.
The consortium first discovered the more infectious variant of the virus, known as the “British variant” and officially known as “B1.1.7”, in Kent, southeast England, in September 2020 through retrospective analysis of virus samples.
Viruses are constantly mutating, but experts are concerned when a virus mutates to become more transmissible, as in this case, or more deadly. The higher rates of infection associated with the variant identified in the UK are likely to result in more hospitalizations and, unfortunately, more deaths. As a result, containment has become a priority.
The variant quickly spread in south-east England and London and is now the dominant strain in Great Britain. It has also been detected in more than 50 countries, with health officials making efforts to isolate cases, although this more virulent strain is believed to be already widespread.
Knowing the exact origin of the mutation is difficult, and given the work of the consortium, it was likely that new variants were found in the UK (other countries that have advanced genome sequencing of the virus, such as Denmark and South Africa, have also discovered variants ). Peacock, who is also a professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, believed that sequencing of coronavirus variants would be required for at least 10 years.
There have been over 107 million coronavirus cases and over 2.3 million deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Aside from the variant of the virus, which was first observed in south-east England, two new variants have emerged in a number of cases in the cities of Liverpool and Bristol, which scientists are currently monitoring.
The Bristol variant has been identified as a “variant of concern” by the UK Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats.
Peacock said although mutant variants were a problem, the variant seen in and around Bristol was in “closed areas and in very small numbers” with only 21 cases discovered to date.
“It is inevitable that the virus will continue to mutate, but the point is that the B1.1.7 variant that we have been circulating for a few weeks and months will mutate again and get new mutations that will affect the way We could treat the virus in terms of immunity and vaccine effectiveness, “she added.