New variant of COVID-19 being investigated by PHE

New variant of COVID-19 being investigated by PHE
© iStock/Maksim Tkachenko

A new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been discovered in the South East of England which Public Health England (PHE) is now investigating.

A total of 1,108 cases of infection with the newly discovered variant – named ‘VUI – 202012/01’ – have been reported up to 13 December.

PHE is working with partners to investigate the strain and will share any findings over the next two weeks, however, currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the strain has any impact on disease severity, antibody response, or vaccine efficacy.

It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been observed in other countries, such as Spain.

Understanding the new variant

In areas where a high number of the new variant have been identified, there is also high case numbers for COVID-19, however, PHE has said it is not yet clear if the new variant is responsible for the increase in cases.

The new variant includes a mutation in the ‘spike’ protein, which PHE say may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor, said: “We are investigating a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, predominantly in Kent and the surrounding areas. It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve and it is important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose. There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected.

“The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.”

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