What do we know about the coronavirus mutation behind the UK travel restrictions?


More transmissible, but without evidence that it is more infectious.

This is the new strain of the coronavirus according to preliminary studies by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). A mutation of the virus that has forced the United Kingdom to impose more severe restrictions and for which several European countries, including France and Germany, have announced travel bans to the British Isles.

This new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in south-east England and already accounted for more than 62% of COVID-19 infections in London.

Preliminary analyzes carried out so far reveal an estimated potential to increase the reproduction rate by 0.4 or more and an increase in transmissibility of up to 70%, the ECDC notes Monday.

When was it first detected?

UK Health Minister Matt Hancock first announced that there was a new variant of the coronavirus – or mutated version of the virus – in London and south-east England on December 14 in the House of Commons.

“Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than existing variants,” Hancock warned, stating that it could be responsible for the rapid increase in cases in south-east England, something that officials would confirm later in the week.

Hancock said more than 1,000 cases had been identified in 60 different local authority areas.

Two days ago, the British Government reinforced the restrictions on the movement of the population in London and the southeast of England due to the alarming increase in cases of COVID-19, which experts associate with a new variant of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Will you respond to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization (WHO) technical leader on COVID-19, said on Monday that “so far, we have no evidence that this variant behaves differently” but British officials said Saturday that it was more transmissible, a reflection in part of how quickly scientists are learning about the virus.

“We are aware of this genetic variant reported in 1,000 individuals in England,” said Dr Mike Ryan, director of the WHO emergency program. “This particular variant appears to have become more prevalent in the UK,” he added on Monday.

“These types of evolution or mutations like this are actually quite common,” said Dr. Ryan, adding that there were several open questions about significant variants. He said UK officials were being very transparent and had already shared the genome sequence of the variant.

“This is a variant, N501Y, that is actually already being monitored by our virus evolution working group. It has emerged in the context of a mink variant identified elsewhere,” Van Kerkhove said Monday.

That N501Y is just one of the changes in this UK variant, according to a variant genome study released Saturday.

Hancock said they don’t believe this strain of coronavirus will not respond to a vaccine.

The ECDC noted that studies are being carried out to determine the risk of reinfections and on the efficacy in vaccines of the new strain, which has also been detected in countries such as Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“Given that there is insufficient evidence to reveal the extent to which the new variant of the virus has been transmitted outside the UK, specific efforts are necessary to prevent and control its spread,” advises the ECDC.

What are the changes in this new strain of coronavirus?

UK Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said on Saturday that the new variant has 23 changes, “many of them associated with changes in the protein that the virus produces.”

“This is an unusually large number of variants. It also has variants in areas of the virus that are known to be associated with the way the virus binds to and enters cells,” Vallance said. “So there are some changes that cause concern.”

This variant first appeared in September and in November was responsible for 28% of COVID-19 cases in London. By the week of Dec. 9, more than 62% of COVID-19 cases in London were of this new variant, officials said.

“So what this tells us is that this new variant is not only moving fast, its increasing in terms of its transmission capacity, but it is becoming the dominant variant. It is outperforming the others in terms of transmission.” Vallance said.

Officials said that due to its higher transmissibility, the variant would cause an increase in the country’s breeding number – the R number – which is the average number of secondary infections from a single infected person.

That number is currently between 1.1 and 1.2 in England, which means that “on average, every 10 infected people will infect between 11 and 12 more people,” says the UK Government.

That number could rise by 0.4 because of the new variant, officials said Saturday, meaning the epidemic would spread much faster. Any R number greater than one means the epidemic is growing.

Can it cause a more serious illness?

UK officials say they don’t think the new variant causes more serious illness or more deaths, but it spreads more quickly, which could cause big problems for the number of infections.

“There is no current evidence to suggest that the new strain causes a higher death rate or affects vaccines and treatments, although work is urgently underway to confirm this,” said Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, in a statement. posted on Saturday.

Vallance added Saturday that there is no evidence that this variant causes more hospitalizations but that for now it is a matter of transmission.

“This virus spreads more easily and therefore more measures are needed to keep it under control,” he added.

Which countries have closed their borders with the United Kingdom?

The French Government was the first to announce a 48-hour ban on circulation from the United Kingdom, both for passenger and freight movements, by rail, air or sea.

The spokesman for the Executive, Gabriel Attal, defended this Monday that it is a “difficult” decision but imposed by the circumstances. “We must have absolute vigilance and caution since a mutation seems to be more contagious,” he said on RTL radio station, where he specified that the veto will remain until midnight on December 23.

The 48-hour period aims to “open a coordination period” for EU member states to define a common doctrine on the regulation and control of flows from the United Kingdom, according to his note.

French citizens who are there are asked to do a PCR if they want to try to return to France during the holidays.

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria also announced restrictions on travel to the UK.


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