On Saturday 19th December, millions of people were thrown into uncertainty when the UK government announced that Christmas was effectively cancelled. Plans to allow people to travel without restrictions for up to five days were scuppered by the emergence of a new variant of the virus.
Here’s what we know so far:
- The variant is named VUI-202012/01.
- It was detected by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium
- There have been more than 1000 cases so far
- It’s been detected in at least 60 local authorities within the UK
- It was first spotted in September but seems to be causing a rise of case across the UK now
According to Public Health England, the new variant is not necessarily more dangerous, although research is currently underway.
SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and mutations are expected to occur as it replicates. Some variants with changes in the spike protein have already been observed as the virus is intensely sequenced here in the UK and around the world. There is no evidence that the newly-reported variant results in a more severe disease.
Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the department of infectious disease, Imperial College London.
In terms of the vaccine, the mutation that’s caused the new variant has been located in the spike protein — the area targeted by the vaccine. This means it should still be effective. However, more research is being done and we will know more in the coming weeks.