New B.1.525 variant similar to the South African variant has been identified
Medical scientists have identified a new variant of coronavirus in the UK with some potentially worrying mutations.
B.1.525 appears to be very similar to the South African variant, also called the 501.V2 variant, that brought about door-step tests in towns in England where it was circulating.
University of Edinburgh medical scientists have found 33 cases in samples dating back to around Christmas. This variant has also been identified in Denmark, the USA, Nigeria and British Columbia in Canada as well.
So far, Denmark has the shown the highest number of identified B.1.525 variant cases with 35, followed by the UK with 33, Nigeria with 12, the USA with 10, and France with 5.
UK coronavirus experts are studying it to understand if it poses a threat to the public and the vaccine programme.
It’s too early to say if it should be treated as a “variant of concern” and whether mass door to door testing, for this variant, should start up again.
The B.1.525 appears to have a variant change, or mutation, called E484K – also found in variants from Brazil and South Africa – that may help the virus evade some immune system defences. It also has a new F888L mutation the significance of which is not clear at the moment.
Other changes make it similar to the UK’s ‘Kent’ variant, these changes virology experts believe make it more transmissible than the original “base” version of coronavirus, that started the covid19 pandemic in 2019.
The greatest concern is that the virus is mutating in ways that could make it more infectious and able to evade vaccines and vaccine induced defences that are already used to fight the original Covid variant.
Current vaccines were designed around early versions of the Covid-19 coronavirus, but scientists are optimistic and believe they should still work against new variants arising recently.
Virologists are already working on new vaccines that are better matched to new variants, in case they are required ahead of winter 2021/22 when covid19 might peak again.