Kent variant ‘concerning’ says Neil Ferguson
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Covid variants have become a key concern around the world this year, as several have cropped up in different countries. Brazil, South Africa and the UK have all reported distinct local versions of the base virus, which cropped up in Wuhan last year. They come with enhanced infective capability and, in some cases, higher death rates.
How many Covid variants have come from the UK?
The UK is one of three countries to have discovered a local variant.
These are offshoots of the virus which have acquired a mutation named E484K, raising concern in the scientific community.
Variants are an inevitability, especially during pandemics, as these provide them with several environments where they can adapt and evolve.
Scientists first identified E484K in variants hailing from South Africa, Brazil and the UK, specifically Kent, all of which appear to be more infective.
But it now appears two more variants have sprung up locally.
Officials with the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) identified one in Bristol earlier this month.
They have recently designated the mutation a “variant of concern”.
The phrase means it could follow the South African and Brazilian variants in becoming more infective or deadly.
NERVTAG also discovered another variant in Liverpool, which they have designated a “variant under investigation”.
The discoveries bring the total number of variants discovered in the UK to three.
But while it seems the UK is providing fertile ground for the virus to mutate, this is likely not the case.
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The country has long-championed genomic sequencing, allowing it to identify new mutations before other nations.
British scientists have established a near-unbeaten track record of analysing new cases of Covid.
They set up the COVID-19 Genomics Consortium (Cog-UK) last year which has since tracked hundreds of thousands of local virus samples.
The body’s lead figures have said this leaves the UK much better prepared to discover variants than other countries.
Sharon Peacock, director of the consortium, attested to the effectiveness of her organisation.
She said most countries without an operational programme would struggle to identify variants at all.
Professor Peacock said: “If you are going to find something anywhere, you are going to find it probably here first.
“And if [a variant] occurs in places that don’t have any sequencing, you’re not going to find it at all.”
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