By Saqib Majeed
A new strain of coronavirus first detected in the UK has prompted dozens of travel bans and widespread concern about what this means for the world. Most of the European countries as well as south Asian and China has banned all travel to and from UK.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant has a series of mutations. It is being reported that the new strain is 75% more contagious than the one discovered previously.
It was discovered in mid-September in the UK and by mid-November more than 75% of the cases reported contained the covid-19 variant.
It is bad news that it is more infectious than the previously known covid-19 variant, but the good news is it is not deadlier.
Outside the UK, this strain has been detected in countries such as Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. A similar but separate variant also has been identified in South Africa. As of now there has been only a few cases of new covid-19 variant in Colorado and California but according Dr. Fauci it will spread across US.
The best news might be that vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account. Seasonal influenza vaccines, for example, include a variety of viral strains already circulating and allow for some that could develop later. So, according to research the newly developed vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are still effective against the virus.
However, there is no evidence that it can make people sicker than the other strains, but it’s difficult to say with certainty at this time. If it did make people sicker, we would expect to see people infected with this new strain to be hospitalized and/or die at a higher rate than those infected with other strains. It is too early, however, to tell whether any difference exists. There is anecdotal evidence in South Africa that younger, healthier people may be getting sicker from the strain there, but it’s possible that this difference is due to other factors (e.g., location, more exposure, etc.).
Currently, officials are trying to work out travel bans and policies in response to this new strain. It is likely we will need to set up better surveillance, similar to the system in the U.K., to anticipate more mutations. Dr. Fauci, head of the infectious disease division in the National Institutes of Health, has advised taking this variant seriously, but not to overreact. Ultimately, the fundamental response to a highly contagious virus is to limit the opportunities for transmission—such as distancing and masking. Pandemic fatigue is real, especially during the winter holidays at the end of a difficult year. Distancing and supporting each other other as we ramp up the vaccinations, this is how we can get through this together.
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