British scientists are currently trying to determine whether the rapid spread of a new variant of the coronavirus in the south of England is linked to key mutations present in this new strain.
Explosion in the number of new contaminations in the United Kingdom
Baptized ” VUI – 202012/01 », This new variant of the virus comprises in particular a mutation in the region of the viral genome encoding the spike protein (which the SARS-CoV-2 used to infect human cells), which could theoretically make it more infectious and accelerate its spread within the population. In a press release, the members of the consortium Covid-19 Genomics UK declared ” perform tests to determine if the mutations detected contribute to increased transmission “.
Earlier this week, the British government announced an increase in new infections with United Kingdom, coinciding with the emergence of the new strain. Within a few days, more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 presenting the new variant had in fact been identified, mainly in the south and east ofEngland, according to the agency Public Health England. However, there is currently no evidence that this strain is more likely to cause serious infections, or that it makes vaccines less effective.
Mutations, or genetic changes, occur naturally in all viruses, as they reproduce and circulate in human populations. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, these mutations accumulate at a rate of about one to two mutations per month in a given country, which implies that several thousand of them have already appeared in the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 since the virus appeared at the end of 2019.
A minority of mutations likely to modify the virus significantly
So far, the majority of mutations observed have had no apparent effect on the virus, and only a minority of them are likely to significantly modify it. By making it for example more apt to infect, more likely to cause a severe form of Covid-19, or less sensitive to natural or vaccine-induced immune defenses.
” The new variant has been detected over a wide geographic area, especially in places with an increased number of cases ” said Susan hopkins, of the Public Health England. ” While the fact that the virus is evolving is not surprising, it is important that we spot any changes early in order to understand the potential risk they entail.. “