The UK coronavirus variant has arrived in Hungary. Referred to as such due to its discovery in England, this new strain has raised significant concern over its potential impact on the world. Here is what you need to know.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that there is no evidence of any strain of the coronavirus causing more severe illness or increased risk of death. The main concern is infectivity.
The government of the United Kingdom has dubbed the new variant VUI – 202012/01, short for “the first variant under investigation in December 2020.” Its mutations are more concerning than panic-inducing, affecting parts of the virus likely to be important, and having been shown in labs to increase its ability to infect cells. Two mutations can be highlighted to explain the significance of this strain.
The first, N501Y, alters the spike protein of the virus, which is the point where the virus first makes contact with the body’s cells, acting as a doorway. Any mutations to this domain which make it easier for the virus to get inside the cell will make it more powerful than previous strains.
Professor Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge suggested that another mutation in the strain, the spike deletion H69/V70, increases infectivity two-fold in lab experiments and can make the antibodies of survivors less effective at handling the virus.
Luckily, all three leading vaccines in use right now can successfully stop the transmission of the new variant. However, Professor Gupta says the more mutations there are to the virus, the higher its chances become of dodging the effects of the vaccine.
50 to 70 Percent More Transmissible
The most worrying aspect of this new strain is its infectivity. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and scientists such as Dr Erik Volz of imperial College London have said that the new variant may be up to 70 percent more transmissible. Hungary’s chief medical officer Cecília Müller said that the new variant is between 50-70 percent more transmissible.
The deadliness of this variant, therefore, is not in its severity or its symptoms, but rather in its infectivity.
The danger of the new Covid variant isn’t that it’s more severe, but that it’s more contagious. If more people get infected, this will increase the burden on already-overwhelmed hospitals—and lead to more deaths.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) January 5, 2021
According to Wendy Barclay, virologist at Imperial College London, the increased infectiousness could be a result of the variant’s ability to infect children. Barclay says that normally, children have stronger immunities to the virus, however due to this new strain, they may now be just as susceptible as adults.
Reactions to the UK Coronavirus Variant
The UK coronavirus variant is gaining increasing attention, not just from the media but from government officials around Europe.
England has entered a third national lockdown due to its impact. People can no longer leave their home without a reasonable excuse, and schools are closed for most people. The only reason why people should be going out are for work, shopping for groceries and medicine, or in case they are in danger. While outdoor exercise is permitted, sporting facilities and children’s sport gatherings are banned.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Germany will be extending its current coronavirus restrictions to January 31, reports MTI. The goal for Germany is to reduce confirmed cases below 50 out of every 100,000 people. The chancellor specifically referred to the danger posed by the mutated UK virus. Schools are closed, and people in areas with high concentrations of the virus face even stricter restrictions. The country is reducing all human connection to the absolute minimum.
President of France’s scientific council, Jean-François Delfraissy, has said that he is very concerned about the “English variant.” Still, he believes that the 1% of the 100,000 PCR tests conducted in France containing the new strain are not enough to require schools to be closed. Schools, he says, should instead be kept under surveillance, closing them once the first case is detected.
The French government will likely share its decision regarding the new strain by Thursday, says MTI. This will probably be done in the form of extending the curfew to 6pm instead of 8pm. France’s numbers are alarming, some regions having 250 cases of infection out of every 100,000 people.
Where is it being located?
The UK variant is heavily concentrated in South-East England, particularly in London. By mid-December, it made up two-thirds of recorded cases in the capital. In the main areas where it is present, London and South-Eastern England, coronavirus cases are spiking.
While many countries have imposed a travel ban from the UK since the detection of the new strain, it is already being found in places like the United States, Mexico, India, and around Europe.
Hungary reportedly had the lowest risk of importing the variant, so the fact that it made it here puts into perspective its likelihood of arriving in other parts of the world as well.
The United Kingdom reported the highest ever daily number of Covid-related deaths at 1,325 fatalities, and the highest ever daily number of new coronavirus cases at 68,053. These likely include the lag in publication of data during the Christmas and New Year period. When compared to the rest of the world, however, the new variant definitely plays a role in the disproportionate spike in cases.
Currently, in London alone, 7,034 people are in hospital due to the virus, 35% more than during the first peak of the pandemic.
It is easy not to worry about the virus while it has not reached us our our families, but we need to be cognizant of its potential. This new variant may appear insignificant to many outside of the UK, but a 50-70% stronger infectivity could prove disastrous for the near future. We need to follow the rules that our government puts in place, otherwise we risk prolonging the spread of the virus, and putting our loved ones in danger.
In the featured photo, Doctors in full protective at St. László Hospital’s intensive care unit for coronavirus treatment – December 8 2020. Photo via Zoltán Balogh/MTI.