February 17 (Evening Standard) – A new Covid variant has been discovered in the UK with similar worrying attributes to the Kent variant and should be targeted with surge testing, experts warn.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified the variant, known as B1525, through genome sequencing in ten countries including 35 cases in Denmark, ten in the US, and 33 cases found in the UK so far, reported The Guardian.
The earliest cases were reported in December and were found in Nigeria and the UK. 108 cases have now been detected across 11 countries in Africa, Europe, North America and the Middle East.
Researchers say that B1525 is similar in make-up to the dominant Kent variation which developed a mutation, E484K, also found in the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants.
The E484K spike protein is thought to play a crucial role in getting the virus into the body.
Studies also indicate this mutation may be able to better escape the body’s immune response, rendering vaccines less effective.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading told The Guardian: “We don’t yet know how well this [new] variant will spread, but if it is successful it can be presumed that immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be blunted.
“I think that until we know more about these variants, any variants which carry E484K should be subject to surge testing as it seems to confer resistance to immunity, however that is generated.”
A spokesman from Public Health England said they were adding the variant to their online database today.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE, said:“ PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing.
“There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility.
“The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to follow the public health advice – wash your hands, wear a face covering and keep your distance from others. While in lockdown, it is important that people stay at home where possible.”
It comes after the Prime Minister suggested mass vaccine coverage and the use of rapid lateral flow testing is the favoured approach to reopen “the toughest nuts to crack” such as nightclubs and theatres.
His suggestion was backed by the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, who told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The secret to getting life back to some degree of normality for most of us is going to be the availability of really reliable, super-quick tests.
“That will make movement so, so much easier.”
“I think that the certificates for vaccination are likely to be required more for international travel and other such activities where you’re actually going into a different jurisdiction.
“But for moving around (domestically) it will be rapid tests.”
Meanwhile, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi declined to say how low coronavirus infections must be in order to allow the lockdown to ease.
Asked what level cases must be brought down to, he told Sky News: “The Prime Minister is right to say that where we are today in terms of number of people in hospital, in terms of case numbers per day, it’s still far too high and we want to make sure we bring that right down.
“But I wouldn’t want to speculate on this until we see more data.”