While UK authorities are investigating a new mutant coronavirus strain, many unanswered questions remain, according to the World Health Organization.
Mutations do not necessarily imply something for better or worse; it just means a change. An organism, in this case an antigen, mutates to adapt for a better chance of survival or it takes on defective properties that can lead to its demise.
“We are aware of this genetic variant being reported in about 1,000 individuals in England,” Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergency program, told a newsletter Monday. “Authorities in the UK are looking at what it means. We have seen many variants, this virus evolves and changes over time. “
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It remains unclear whether the variant makes the virus more serious, transmittable, or interferes with diagnostics or the effectiveness of the vaccine, Ryan said.
The news about the virus variant comes amid new coronavirus restrictions that will affect London and other parts of the UK Wednesday morning as the number of cases in the UK continues to rise. The strictest Tier 3 restrictions prohibit indoor socializing, and bars, pubs, and restaurants must be closed except for takeout. People are being told to minimize travel within or to the area, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people shouldn’t take trips to central London to do Christmas shopping.
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Professor Nick Loman of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium told the BBC that the variant has several surprising mutations.
“It has a surprisingly large number of mutations, more than we would expect, and a few look interesting,” said Loman, who also reported that the mutation is most common in areas with the highest number of cases.
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The professor said there are “two remarkable sets of mutations,” both in the spike protein, that the virus uses to bind to healthy cells.
Another professor warned that it is too early to draw any conclusions.
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“We know there is a variant, we don’t know anything about what that biologically means,” Alan McNally, a professor at the University of Birmingham told the BBC. “It is far too early to draw any conclusions about how important this is or is not.”
“We have no information to suggest this is the case,” Ryan continued, speaking of disruptions to the diagnostics or efficacy of vaccines. “Therefore, whenever we see a significant variant, we must take the time to estimate its significance.”
Greg Norman and the Fox News Associated Press contributed to this report.