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Matt Hancock blames the new strain of coronavirus for the increasing cases in London and the southeast


A mutant strain of coronavirus could be behind the rapid rise in infections in London and the south-east of England, Matt Hancock claimed today.

British experts have so far found more than 1,000 people with the VUI – 202012/01 variant, the Health Minister informed the House of Commons.

There have been reports of the tribe in at least 60 local authorities and it is believed to be similar to other tribes in Europe, he claimed.

VUI – 202012/01 was picked up in Kent last week during routine testing by Public Health England (PHE) and ministers were made aware of its existence on Friday.

PHE scientists are examining the strain at a government laboratory in Porton Down to see if it behaves differently than the normal version of the virus.

Professor Chris Whitty said at a press conference on Downing Street tonight it was possible the strain was more contagious than regular Covid.

He said, “The main reason we bring this to people's attention is whether it is spreading faster. It may or may not be "cause and effect". "

However, the chief doctor said there was "no evidence" that it was more dangerous or that it could slip past Covid-19 vaccines or tests.

He added, "There isn't much selective pressure on this virus and so it would be surprising – not impossible, but quite surprising – if this virus actually evolved to bypass the vaccine."

No information has been publicly released about the strain and it does not appear to exist in scientific studies, nor to be associated with any of the other mutations found in Europe.

Other versions of the coronavirus were found throughout the year, and experts say it is perfectly normal for the virus to change as it spreads and there is nothing to be concerned about.

Variants D614G and 20A.EU1 have been found to be widespread and spread faster than original versions from East Asia, but not more deadly.

Independent scientists said it was "too early" to worry about the new strain.

A mutated strain of coronavirus could be to blame for a rapid surge in infections in London and south-east England, Matt Hancock suggested today (file)

Mr Hancock, who first unveiled the strain's discovery, told MPs in the House of Commons today: “In the past few days, thanks to our world-class genomic skills in the UK, we have identified a new variant of the coronavirus that could be linked to its faster spread in the south east of England.

The first analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants. We have currently identified over 1,000 cases of this variant, mostly in the south of England.

“Although cases have been detected in almost 60 different local authorities and the number is growing rapidly. Similar variants have been identified in other countries in recent months.

"We have notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of this new variant and Public Health England is working hard to continue its expert analysis at Porton Down."

WHAT'S KNOWN ABOUT THE NEW STRAIN?

Experts have so far identified more than 1,000 confirmed cases in the UK, mostly in Kent and some parts of London.

There have been reports of pollution in at least 60 local authorities in England;

It was called VUI 202012/01 – which stands for "Variant Under Investigation in December 2020".

It was picked up last week in Kent during routine testing by Public Health England (PHE).

The ministers were made aware of their existence on Friday;

The strain is believed to resemble ultra-infectious varieties that race through Europe.

PHE scientists are studying the mutant strain in a government laboratory in Porton Down.

There is currently no evidence that the strain is more deadly or causing any more serious symptoms than other versions of the virus.

It is highly unlikely to be vaccine resistant.

“I have to emphasize at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious illness.

"And the latest clinical advice is that it is highly unlikely that this mutation will not respond to a vaccine." But it shows that we need to be vigilant and follow the rules.

"And everyone has to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus."

Experts will try to find out if VUI – 202012/01 is more contagious, more deadly, or if it has an effect on the Pfizer vaccine. It usually takes about two weeks to get the results.

But Mr Hancock said there was "currently nothing to suggest" that the strain is more effective or causing more severe symptoms, adding that it was "highly unlikely" to be resistant to vaccines.

In today's Downing Street press, Professor Whitty tried to allay fears of the new strain.

He said: "The reason for this was found to be that there is a good surveillance system in the UK that is wider than many other countries.

& # 39; And it appears to be in an area of ​​the country, particularly Kent and parts of London, that is growing rapidly.

"Now we don't know what cause and effect are. Will it become more frequent because the rate of increase is faster in one part of the country and therefore there is inevitably a higher proportion (of the burden)?" Or is it possible that this virus (strain) can be transmitted more easily by itself? It is not immediately clear. "

He said there are three main problems with new varieties of viruses, adding, “The first is, is there any evidence that this is more dangerous? And there is currently no evidence of this.

& # 39; The second question is, is it invisible to the tests we have? And the short answer is no … the third question is that given that we now have a vaccine around the corner, we would expect that to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“And I think we should remember that we haven't used a vaccine yet and that a relatively small part of the population is still immune from previous infection. Hence, there is not much selective pressure on this virus and therefore it would be surprising – not impossible, but rather surprising – if this had actually evolved to bypass the vaccine.

"Over time, with any infection, if a very high proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the selection pressure increases, and at that point the new variants are more likely to be the ones that can partially escape a vaccine, but" There's no reason to believe that right now. & # 39;

So far, little is known about VUI 202012/01 – what stands for Variant Under Investigation in December 2020 – or where it comes from.

All viruses naturally mutate when they spread in populations, and the changes usually make little difference in the way they behave in humans.

WHAT OTHER COVID STRAINS ARE CREATED?

Hundreds of coronavirus strains are currently circulating around the world.

All viruses, including the virus that causes Covid-19, naturally mutate when spreading in populations.

But the changes usually make a minimal difference in the way they behave in humans.

However, there were three that caught the attention of scientists:

D614G

D614G is by far the most common coronavirus strain worldwide and first appeared in Germany in February.

It is believed to make up 85 percent of the world's cases.

The D614G mutation occurred in a European patient at a specific location, position 614, on the virus' spike protein.

This viral spike hijacks the human ACE2 receptor, thereby infecting human cells.

The location of the mutation is at a critical point that affects the halving of the virus after infiltration of a cell.

The mutation is very small and simple, one amino acid is changed from D (aspartate) to G (glycine), hence the nickname D614G.

Through international trips, this variant was able to spread across the continent and to America, Oceania and Asia within a few weeks.

Scientists are still trying to figure out why the D614G strain became the main form of SARS-CoV-2, and believe that this may be due to the mutation that increases the amount of virus in the upper respiratory tract.

This increases the likelihood of spreading if the infected person speaks, coughs, or sneezes.

20A.EU1

It is believed that 20A.EU1 is behind Europe's second wave.

Scientists who track the virus believe it is behind up to eight in ten infections on the continent.

It was returned to a farm in northern Spain in June, and experts believe it sped across the continent when vacationers returned in the summer as broadcasting paused and locks eased.

Since July 20A.EU1 has been identified in twelve European countries – including Belgium, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Norway and the Netherlands.

It was also transmitted from Europe to major cities on other continents such as Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Like D614G, scientists believe the strain has a certain mutation in the spike protein that Sars-CoV-2 uses to enter human cells, which could make this process easier.

Cluster 5

Scientists believe that the variant originated in Denmark in the mink.

It is believed to have jumped to mink from farm laborers in the summer before being returned to humans.

During the transition between species, a mutation occurred in its spike protein.

It has been feared that Cluster 5 could slip past promising new Covid-19 vaccines that work by stimulating an antibody response.

Officials cordoned off parts of northern Denmark where the variety originated and ordered 17 million minks to be weeded to pound the variant before it spread.

Many pathogens evolve to become more contagious, which often makes them less deadly so they can survive longer and be spread to more people.

A WHO spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of this UK variant that has been reported to us by national authorities and we understand they are addressing it.

'It is normal for viruses to change. Most changes have little or no effect on the properties of the virus.

"Depending on where the changes are in the virus' s genetic material and how those changes affect the shape or properties of the virus, some of them could potentially affect the behavior and spread of the virus."

“When a virus changes so much that it's different from what vaccines are supposed to fight or tests are designed to detect, it can affect the way vaccines and diagnostic tests work.

“Together with its network of experts, WHO is monitoring changes to the virus so that, in such a case, measures can be taken to prevent the spread of this variant.

"So far, SARS-CoV-2 has hardly changed, with no impact on the available diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines that are under development."

In response to the results, Professor Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at the University of Nottingham, said, “The genetic information in many viruses can change very quickly, and sometimes those changes can benefit the virus – by allowing it to transmit more efficiently or to escape from vaccines or treatments – but many changes have no effect at all.

'While a new genetic variant of the virus has emerged and is spreading in many parts of the UK and around the world, it could happen purely by chance.

“It is therefore important that we examine any genetic changes that occur to find out whether they affect the behavior of the virus. By the time we have done this important work, it is premature to say about the possible effects of the virus mutation. & # 39;

Professor Alan McNally, an expert in microbial evolutionary genomics at the University of Birmingham, added: “In the last few weeks some of the UK's PCR testing laboratories have taken up this new variant.

'Backed by the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium and Rapid Genomics, it was identified incredibly quickly.

"Hopefully the narration here is how amazing our surveillance was to pick up on this. Great efforts are being made to characterize the variant and understand how it came about.

'It's important to have a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is a normal virus development and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time.

"It is too early to worry or not about this new variant, but I am impressed with the surveillance efforts in the UK which have made it possible for this to be picked up so quickly."

The only purpose of the virus is to replicate as often as possible. Tiny changes in its DNA occur every time it spreads between people to allow for greater growth, transferability, or an escape from the immune system.

However, most changes have little to no effect, and rarely does a mutation occur that actually achieve any of these goals. This is a process that can take years, if not decades, for most viruses.

However, some, like the flu, mutate much faster, which is why a different flu shot is given each year to protect millions of people from various stresses.

Experts are still not sure how quickly SARS-CoV-2 mutates. However, there is consensus that this process is slower than the flu, as is the case with other seasonal coronaviruses.

Another mutation in Sars-Cov-2, D614G, was identified this summer and is still thriving in Europe, the US, and parts of Asia.

It is believed to make up 85 percent of the world's cases. The D614G mutation occurred in a European patient at a specific location, position 614, on the virus' spike protein.

This viral spike hijacks the human ACE2 receptor, thereby infecting human cells.

The location of the mutation is at a critical point that affects the halving of the virus after infiltration of a cell.

The mutation is very small and simple, one amino acid is changed from D (aspartate) to G (glycine), hence the nickname D614G.

Through international trips, this variant was able to spread across the continent and to America, Oceania and Asia within a few weeks.

Scientists are still trying to figure out why the D614G strain became the main form of SARS-CoV-2, and believe that this may be due to the mutation that increases the amount of virus in the upper respiratory tract.

This increases the likelihood of spreading if the infected person speaks, coughs, or sneezes.

Another strain called 20A.EU1 is said to have been behind the second wave of epidemics in Europe. Since July 20A.EU1 has been identified in twelve European countries – including Belgium, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Norway and the Netherlands.

It was also transmitted from Europe to major cities on other continents such as Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Experts tracked 20A.EU1 back to a farm in northern Spain in June, believing it was racing across the continent when vacationers returned in the summer when broadcasting paused and locks eased.

The researchers believe the variant was able to move so quickly over the summer due to the timing of travel restrictions and the easing of social distancing measures.

But it is also believed that 20A.EU1 has a certain mutation in the spike protein that Sars-CoV-2 uses to invade human cells, which could facilitate this process.

A third strain – called Cluster 5 – that appeared in Mink in the fall set off alarms after it was found to be resistant to antibodies.

It has been feared that Cluster 5 could slip past promising new Covid-19 vaccines that work by stimulating an antibody response.

Officials cordoned off parts of northern Denmark where the variety originated and ordered 17 million minks to be weeded to pound the variant before it spread.

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