New COVID-19 Variant Under Investigation in the UK

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According to Public Health England, a new COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.621, is currently under investigation in the UK

Almost two years into the pandemic and the end still feels further and further from our reach. Since the first case in November 2019, the novel coronavirus has claimed over 4 million lives and infected more than 195 million people across the globe. Moreover, the emergence of various variants has led to waves of infections in several countries. Researchers believe that the ease of COVID-19 restrictions worldwide may have contributed to the origin of these variants. Now, to make matters worse, Public Health England (PHE) has recently identified a new COVID-19 variant in the UK.

According to the statement, the new variant is currently a variant under investigation (VUI). Called B.1.621, the variant was initially labelled as a signal in monitoring. It was first identified in January, in Colombia. To date, the new variant has caused around 16 cases in the UK. The majority of these cases have been linked to overseas travel and researchers have yet to find evidence of community transmission in the UK. The strain is currently undergoing laboratory testing in the UK so researchers can better understand the mutation and its impact. However, there is no evidence of the variant being more infectious or deadlier than the other variants. Despite the low number of cases, health officials are conducting contact tracing and targeted testing to contain the strain.

There is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.

Public Health England

PHE also reported the updated hospitalization data from 21 June to 19 July. As per the report, 54% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated, while a third had received both doses. Thus, showing the role of vaccines in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations.

Delta Responsible for 99% of Cases

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled four coronavirus strains as variants of concern (VOC): Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma. The Delta variant, first discovered in India, has now become the dominant strain in the UK. It accounts for approximately 99% of cases in the UK. Previously, it had also delayed the lifting of lockdown in the country.

However, as the country eases its restrictions, researchers are worried about the emergence of more new variants in UK. According to health officials, lowered immunity in unvaccinated individuals and the virus’s evolutionary mechanism can make for a deadly combo.

As we emerge from restrictions and vaccine coverage continues to rise, it is important to remember that while the protection provided by vaccination is excellent, it is not total. It is still as important as ever that we continue to exercise caution.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency

Fortunately, current vaccines have demonstrated great effectiveness against the variants. However, vaccines do not guarantee protection from infection. Therefore, researchers are urging people to continue following COVID-19 protocols such as wearing a mask in public.

Reference: Public Health England

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