The UK variant of the coronavirus could be the reason behind the growing number of reported cases in Hungary. The more infectious and potentially deadlier mutation, named after its discovery in the United Kingdom, is spreading quickly, and may soon become the dominant strain around the world.
The PCR tests of Neumann Diagnostics show that the UK coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7, is responsible for half of the positive coronavirus cases in Hungary.
Luckily, neither of the mutations discovered in South Africa and Brazil have shown up in the tests.
Miklós Nyíri, managing director of Neumann Diagnostics, says that the mutations can have an overwhelming impact on pandemic management. This is why he says it is crucial to know which variant people are infected with, and to analyze severe cases of infection.
According to virologist Miklós Rusvai, the British mutation is likely the reason behind the recent increase in coronavirus cases in Hungary. While Rusvai does not believe the mutation causes more harmful symptoms, it is still 70 percent more infectious than the original strain of the coronavirus.
Chief Medical Officer Believes the Mutation is Causing the Increase in Cases
Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller has also stated that it is the British mutation which is causing the upward turn in the data.
According to her, the UK variant has been located in 69 cases studied, with 35 suspicious cases being analyzed at the moment.
While those infected with the original strain typically pass on the virus to two or three people, those who catch the British mutation typically infect four.
Müller emphasized that currently, vaccines which have been authorized for use are effective against the UK variant. She hopes that the increased shipments of vaccines will outpace the spread of the mutation.
Certain municipalities around Hungary have considered reopening, but Müller advised strongly against this.
Not only has this mutation begun to rapidly spread in Hungary, it is also appearing in significant numbers around Europe. While on a continental scale it was barely noticeable in January, it is now gaining significant momentum from one week to the next.
The UK Coronavirus Variant is Spreading Rapidly in Europe
The UK variant was responsible for every third infection in Denmark last week. 28.5 percent of those who were infected had the British mutation, comparable to the 20 percent reported in the previous week, and the 2 percent at the beginning of the year.
Many researchers believe that by the end of the month the UK mutation will become the dominant strain in Scandinavia.
In Italy the mutation is responsible for 17 percent of infections.
Numbers aren’t as significant in Germany, but the Robert Koch institute responsible for disease control and prevention expects next week’s tests to show a significant increase in the variant’s presence.
British Experts Say it Could be More Resistant to Vaccines
Cambridge professor Sharon Peacock, head of the UK’s COVID-19 Genomics consortium, says the virus swept through Great Britain and will likely do the same for the rest of the world.
According to Peacock, the most worrying part about the virus currently is its infectiousness, as well as its potential resistance to vaccines.
Two leading scientists from the UK have warned that this strain has the same mutation to its spike protein as the South African variant, which Peacock says is worrying, since this mutation has been associated with increased immunity to vaccines and re-infection in South Africa.
According to the professor, “if the virus gets advantages from a particular mutation, then that’s likely to persist in the population and expand.”
The British government has released a report which compiled the research of major universities and studies, concluding that the UK variant is likely 30 to 70 percent deadlier than the original strain of the coronavirus.
There were however, limitations to the report, such as representativeness, power, potential biases in case ascertainment, unmeasured confounders, and secular trends.
The Spread of the Mutation Does Not Bode Well for a Potential Reopening
There are currently three notable mutated strains of the coronavirus, which were discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. B.1.1.7, discovered in Kent, is the most dangerous, having already infected 51, 550 people in the UK and appeared in more than 50 countries around the world.
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said that if the second wave of the virus weakens enough, Hungary will begin its two-step reopening in March and April. Reopening in April may completely lift restrictions, depending on the amount of people who have been vaccinated by that time.
Currently restrictions in Hungary have not been loosened at all, however, likely due to the relentlessness of the British mutation. If this new variant does end up dominating the pandemic scene on a global scale, Hungarians may need to wait a while longer for restrictions to be lifted.
In the featured photo illustration, a doctor and nurses wearing protective equipment attend to a patient at the Szent László Hospital’s intensive care unit for coronavirus patients on May 8, 2020. Featured photo illustration by Károly Árvai/MTI/kormany.hu