The World Health Organization is aware of a new variant of Covid-19 that has emerged in Britain, but there is no evidence that the strain behaves differently from existing types of virus, the group said on Monday.
“We are aware of this genetic variant which has been reported in 1,000 people in England,” WHO leading emergency expert Mike Ryan told a press briefing in Geneva. “The authorities are examining its significance. We have seen many variations, this virus evolves and changes over time. “
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More than 1,000 cases of the variant have been identified in recent days in England, mainly in the south of the country, where it could be linked to an increase in cases, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday.
“We have identified a new variant of the coronavirus, which may be associated with faster spread in the south-east of England,” Hancock said in a statement to parliament. “The initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants. “
“I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that the variant is more likely to cause serious disease, and the latest clinical advice is that it is highly unlikely that this mutation will not respond to a vaccine, ”he added.
British experts agreed that at this stage the new variant is not of concern.
“The genetic information of many viruses can change very quickly and sometimes these changes can benefit the virus – by allowing it to be transmitted more efficiently or bypassing vaccines or treatments – but many changes have no effect,” Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement.
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But until scientists can study the change further, to determine whether it affects the behavior of the virus, “it is premature to make any statements about the potential impacts of the virus mutation,” he said. .
Alan McNally, professor of evolutionary microbial genomics at the University of Birmingham, said in a statement that the emergence of a new strain “is a normal viral evolution and we expect new variants to appear and disappear and emerge. with time “.
McNally praised the country’s ability to quickly detect the variant.
“I hope the narrative here shows how amazing our watch was to pick this up,” he said. “I am impressed with the surveillance efforts in the UK which have allowed this to be detected so quickly. “
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Sara G. Miller contributed.