VIRUS: Study confirms the fears of the United Kingdom government over contagiousness of this mutant coronavirus
The fears of the British government around the increased contagiousness of the new mutated variant of coronavirus detected on its soil a few days before the Christmas holidays were unfortunately well-founded.
According to a study just put online, this new variant is well “50% to 74%” more contagious than the strains so far in circulation. An estimate not published in a scientific journal nor analyzed by independent experts but which is based “on the basis of preliminary data available”, according to one of its authors, Nick Davies, a biologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
22 mutations on the genome
This estimate is also consistent with that of “50% to 70%” presented Monday at a press conference by other researchers, members of the group that advises the British government on emerging respiratory viruses, the NERVTAG. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, himself spoke of 70% more contagiousness last weekend.
Detected for the first time in September in Great Britain, this variant called VOC 202012/01 has 22 mutations on its genome. One in particular, named N501Y, is located at the level of the spike protein of the coronavirus, a point on its surface that allows it to attach to human cells in order to penetrate them, therefore playing a key role in the viral infection.
A variant which “could represent 90% of cases by mid-January” in the United Kingdom
A quarter of new infections detected in November in the affected areas were linked to this variant in early November, a figure that rose to more than 60% in early December. And “if the current trend continues, the new variant could represent 90% of cases by mid-January”, according to Nick Davies.
LSHTM researchers “have yet to find any evidence that individuals who contract the new variant have an increased risk of hospitalization or death.” But the probable “sharp increase” in the number of cases caused by this mutation could, according to them, have important consequences on the outcome of the epidemic.
“The recent rise in the number of infections” in several regions “could continue and spread to all parts of the UK without prompt action,” they warn.
This new variant does not circulate exclusively in the United Kingdom, several cases having been detected in Belgium in early December.