As countries gain hope for a path out of the corona virus pandemic, Britain announced a new corona virus variant, highly contagious and rapidly circulating in England. It was dubbed the 'B.1.1.7 lineage'. This new strain is sweeping across southern England, causing an alarm in Europe, and was reported in England in late September. EU countries have issued travel bans on the UK to control the spread of the mutation locally.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, said that the new fast-moving variant of the virus is 70% contagious than the existing corona virus strains. He also added that it would be the driving force behind the drastic increase in the new covid-19 infections in southern England and London.
A similar version of the virus also emerged in South Africa. And according to the scientists who detected it, it shares one of the mutations observed in the British strain. Australia on Monday also confirmed cases with this new first spreading UK strain.
B.1.1.7 has already become the dominant strain in some regions. This suggests that this strain has a selective advantage when compared to the other variants.
No evidence suggests that the newly emerged covid-19 strain leads to higher mortality rates or affects treatments and vaccines, although urgent works are underway to confirm this. The worry is that this new variant is more infectious than the others making it very difficult to control the pandemic in the UK.
When the coronavirus variants' survival chances become low due to growing immunity in humans and vaccines, the virus gains any possible mutation that will enable it to escape detection by the immune system or spread more easily. For instance, the British variant typically has around 20 mutations. This includes several mutations that affect the way the virus binds into human cells and infect them. The mutations tend to enhance how the virus replicates and facilitates efficient transmission.
But when and from where did this variant come? It’s reported to emerge from a patient with a weakened immune system unable to fight the pathogen in London during September. So, their body became a breeding place for the virus to undergo mutation.
Virus mutations occur when the body develops antibodies to fight against the virus to prevent a disease outbreak. The virus then changes its outer surface or envelops to avoid being detected by the immune cells and antibodies. This means that it must change its surface proteins and develop new strains for a virus to survive.
So, if the corona virus pathogen has already mutated and the antibodies produced are programmed to the older versions of the virus, it makes the antibodies less effective. Besides, there is no reason to panic as viruses don’t become more pathogenic through mutations. Other mutations even weaken the virus making it less virulent.
Mutations are prevalent, and it is not unusual discovering such a mutation. Viruses tend to mutate all the time, but the mutations usually have minimal or no side effects in many instances. For example, in China, a new variant of the virus was detected already circulating six months ago.
We should be ready for the virus such that when it changes its method of attack, we also change our defense techniques.
Large-scale vaccination campaigns first began in the UK in Western Europe. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinese ffectively induce immune responses to spike the protein carried by the covid-19 virus on its surface. Still, the infected individuals produce unique, large, and complex amounts of antibodies to this protein.
The corona virus's new variants may be fast-spreading, but this doesn't mean that they are more dangerous. Vaccines that have been developed will still work, but they may require further alterations with time. However, they are designed to encode the covid-19 spike protein information such that the immune system will still be stimulated despite the mutation.
WHO is currently working with scientists to establish how the genetic changes of the virus affect its behavior. According to WHO, suppressing all the covid-19 viruses' transmission as quickly as possible is just the bottom line. The pathogen gets more opportunities to change, the more we allow it to spread. It’s very critical for all governments and individuals to take the ideal precautions to limit and stop the virus's transmission.
Everyone is encouraged not to follow the narrative that corona virus only affects the old-aged, and we can now relax with the development of the new vaccines. This virus affects both adults and children in various ways and affects any body system, with many individuals developing long-term consequences of the pathogen, such as neurological complications. WHO has taken the step to rollout training courses for health workers on corona virus vaccinations!
Claims emerged that weather has impacts on the spread of the virus. Research has shown that there are more corona virus cases with a fall in temperatures and humidity. High temperatures tend to be associated with lower cases, although the relationship between the virus and high temperatures is still unclear. Many viruses have the seasonality characteristic as cold viruses and flu peak during the winter period and die as the warmer period begins.
Other best lines of defense in reducing the impacts of corona virus are testing and self-isolation.
If the community continues to work together with the public health departments, it will be easier to deal with all the phases of the covid-19 pandemic. Public health services in the affected countries continue to monitor this new strain to understand its impacts and whether it might be more deadly than the existing strains.
The new fast-spreading coronavirus has led to the introduction of strict tier four mixing restrictions in several countries to reduce the spread. Millions of Britons hoped that the covid-19 restrictions would be eased during Christmas, but their hopes were dashed when scientists warned against this new variant. Stay at home orders have been announced for the capital and southeast England in response to the surge up to 30th December.