The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said local authorities have recorded infections that were caused by a new variant of Coronavirus. He also noted that there is nothing to suggest that the disease could be worse or that the new vaccines would not work against the virus.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty said, “”We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.”
He continues, “We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
Prof Alan McNally, an expert at the University of Birmingham said, “Let’s not be hysterical. It doesn’t mean it’s more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous. It is something to keep an eye on.”
“Huge efforts are ongoing at characterising the variant and understanding its emergence. It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time.”
When it comes to viruses like these, new strains are not uncommon, and the changes can come about rapidly according to Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University. He says, “The genetic information in many viruses can change very rapidly and sometimes these 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.” Professor Ball continues, “It is important that we study any genetic changes as they occur, to work out if they are affecting how the virus behaves, and until we have done that important work it is premature to make any claims about the potential impacts of virus mutation.”