December 24, 2020

What do we know about the new strain?

A more infectious strain of the virus has emerged in the UK
This new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage and is said to be a lot more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the UK
Some experts are concerned about this new strain of the virus although it is believed that it is unlikely that it would be resistant to the existing vaccines.

Why is this a concern?

The main worry is that the variant is significantly more transmissible than the original strain.

Scientists say it is 40-70 percent more transmissible and could increase the reproduction “R” rate in the UK by 0.4.

“The new B.1.1.7 … still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Will vaccines continue to protect against this variant?

There is no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed worldwide will not protect against this variant. “It’s unlikely that this will have anything more than a minor, if any, effect on the vaccine’s effectiveness,” said Adam Finn, a vaccine specialist and professor of paediatrics at the Bristol University.

Will the new variant affect testing?

It could affect some tests. The new variant’s one mutation affects one of three genomic targets used by some PCR tests. This means that in those tests, that target area, or “channel”, would come up negative. Robert Shorten, an expert in microbiology at the Association for Clinical Biochemistry & Laboratory Medicine said: “This has affected the ability of some tests to detect the virus.”

Since PCR tests detect more than one gene target in general, the tests will only be partly affected.