WHO chief scientist says new UK coronavirus strain may be present in many nations: Report

Experts have deemed this new virus at least 70 per cent more infectious than the other strains of the virus
Last Updated : 22 December 2020, 06:05 IST
Last Updated : 22 December 2020, 06:05 IST

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Amid the raging global coronavirus outbreak, a new strain of the virus has been found in the United Kingdom, sending experts scurrying for new detailed analysis. And a revelation that could raise the eyebrows further, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organisation, told NDTV that the new strain of Covid-19 may already be present in many countries.

She added that a conclusion about the new strain cannot be deduced in such an early stage.

She informed that the United Kingdom is doing a lot of whole genome sequencing and is thus able to track it very closely in real-time. She suspects that as more countries look at their data, they might find the presence of this variant.

Read: No need for major alarm, says WHO on new coronavirus strain

Experts have deemed this new virus at least 70 per cent more infectious than the other strains of the virus. Most of the new positive cases that have surfaced in the UK, especially in London, have been because of the new strain. Since the coronavirus was detected in China, it has seen alterations in its structure, but the UK variant has seen an abnormally large number of mutations. Moreover, this is the only variant which has seen infections growing at a rapid rate.

It is believed that this new, more contagious virus is fast replacing other versions, which would enable the virus to multiply.

The new variant is currently heavily concentrated in the UK, except Northern Island. There have been nine cases of the new strain in Turkey. There are also cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Italy and South Africa.

Swaminathan explained that other viruses had mutated in the past that eventually become the dominant variant, and added that it is unlikely that a couple of mutations in the spike protein could change the response of the immune system to the vaccine.

Read more: UK coronavirus strain could more easily infect children

She also said that experiments to understand the new UK strain in a better way are taking place, but it will take a couple of weeks to get results.

The scientist advised that countries should do more sequencing. "India has a huge capacity to do whole genome sequencing (one of the keys to developing an effective vaccine). In fact, India is already contributing quite a lot to a global database that has close to 300,000 sequences," she said.

She cautioned that it is important for all countries to put in place measures of testing, and contact-tracing and isolation of positive cases to control the virus and bring down transmission.

WHO officials have put a positive light on the discovery of the new strains that prompted a slew of countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain and South Africa, saying new tools to track the virus were working.

"We have to find a balance. It's very important to have transparency, it's very important to tell the public the way it is, but it's also important to get across that this is a normal part of virus evolution," WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told an online briefing.

Also read: Covid-19 vaccine will be equally effective against new mutant of coronavirus, says CSIR DG

The officials said that coronavirus mutations had so far been much slower than with influenza and that even the new UK variant remained much less transmissible than other diseases like mumps.

They said vaccines developed to combat Covid-19 should handle the new variants as well, although checks are underway to ensure this.

Published 22 December 2020, 05:08 IST

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