Mutated’ Covid-19 strain of UK spreads faster

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Context- New mutated COVID-19 strain discovered in the United Kingdom underlines the need for adherence to Non-pharmaceutical interventions.

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A new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Britain and prompting high levels of concern.

Precautionary measures taken by other countries-

  • The United Kingdom stood shut off from the rest of Europe after several nations decided to close borders over fears of the new coronavirus strain.
  • India too has joined over two dozen countries in banning inbound travel from the UK.

What is this new strain of coronavirus?

Covid-19 mutant strain- It has been named VUI-202012/01 and is defined by a set of 23 changes or mutations. Among the 23 mutations, the two of which are particularly worrisome.

  1. N501Y – Has previously been shown to increase how tightly the protein binds to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor, its entry point into human cells.
  2. 69-70del – leads to the loss of two amino acids in the spike protein and has been found in viruses that eluded the immune response in some immune compromised patients.

Concern with new strain-

  • It is about 70% more transmissible- The variant has the potential to increase by over 0.4 the number of people a person can infect.

Mutations, or genetic changes, arise naturally in all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, as they replicate and circulate among humans. However, these changes, can lead to a quicker spread of Covid-19 between people.

Will vaccines work against this new strain of virus?

According to scientists, Vaccines will be equally effective despite the mutation. So there is no reason to panic.

  • This is because vaccines are designed to create antibodies targeting the spike protein and there is also the T-cell immunity that would come into play to clear the virus.
  • However, as the virus accumulates more changes, vaccines might require little tweaking.

What needs to be done?

  • The emergence of the new variant underlines the compulsion to undertake surveillance following vaccination to track vaccine effectiveness and to look for the appearance of vaccine escape mutants.
  • Non-pharmaceutical interventions, including quarantine and social distancing have significantly helped in curbing the transmission of coronavirus and should be followed strictly.
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