Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of viruses are expected to occur over time. Just recently, a new variation of the coronavirus has arisen as the pandemic continued across the globe.
Over the past months, the UK has seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Southeast England London. On December 14, authorities of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reported to WHO that a new SARS-CoV-2 variant was identified through viral genomic sequencing.
Initial analysis indicates that the variant may spread more readily between people. Investigations are ongoing to determine if this variant is associated with any changes in the severity of symptoms, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
Preliminary reports by the United Kingdom are that this variant is more transmissible than previous circulating viruses, with an estimated increase of between 40% and 70% in transmissibility
Where did it come from?
The most likely explanation is the variant has emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus.
A similar variant that has emerged in South Africa shares some of the same mutations, but appears to be unrelated to this one.
Several reports stated that the strain from South Africa appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.
What is different about it?
The variant found in the UK is defined by the presence of a range of 14 mutations resulting in amino acid changes and three deletions. According to WHO, some of these mutations may influence the transmissibility of the virus in humans.
Is the variant already circulating in Bahrain?
No. To date, there has been no reports saying that it has reached Bahrain.
What are the unknowns?
- How widely the new variant has spread in the rest of the world
- How the new variant differs from earlier variants
- How the disease caused by this variant differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating
How do we reduce the risk of transmission?
- Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
- Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
- People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands);
- Within healthcare facilities, enhance standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments; and
- Wearing masks where appropriate and ensuring good ventilation.