December 15, 2020 | 8:19am | Updated December 15, 2020 | 8:19am
Cells containing the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are seen through a microscope
A new mutation of COVID-19 has turned up in more than 1,000 infected patients in the UK — and is being blamed on a more rapid spread of the contagion.
The nation’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, revealed the new variant and said it was behind “very sharp, exponential rises” in cases across London and surrounding counties of Kent and Essex.
“We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant,” he said, noting that initial analysis suggests it is growing faster than existing variants.
Hancock — who ordered stricter lockdowns for the affected areas — said the UK had alerted the World Health Organization, and the UN health agency confirmed it was investigating.
British scientists from the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium said they were examining the new strain to see if “any of these mutations are contributing to increased transmission.”
As of Dec. 13, it had been detected in 1,108 cases, Public Health England said.
The new variant — which UK scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01” — includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein.
“Changes in this part of the spike protein may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people,” Public Health England noted.
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of health charity Wellcome, told the BBC that it could be serious — while Alan McNally, an expert at the University of Birmingham, warned that people should not “be hysterical.”
“It doesn’t mean it’s more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous. It is something to keep an eye on,” he told the broadcaster.
Noting “huge efforts” to study the strain, he said, “It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective.”
The WHO’s chief of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, said that “mutations like this are quite common,” stressing that so far there is yet nothing to confirm that it is more deadly or spreads more easily.
Health Secretary Hancock also insisted that “it is highly unlikely that this new variant will impinge the vaccine and the impact of the vaccine.”
Last week, the UK became the first country in the world to begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
With Post Wires