DETROIT – Countries across the globe have quickly closed their borders to the United Kingdom as a new coronavirus variant is effectively cancelling Christmas celebrations in parts of England.
The fear shared by the global community is that if this variant becomes more widespread it could make the virus even harder to control.
There has been talk about different changes or mutations that happen with some regularity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
These can often be useful to trace when and where the virus is spreading. Occasionally, several individual mutations either accumulate or occur at once and that can give rise to a new variant of the virus with different characteristics.
“It is with a heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
That came over the weekend as Johnson announced the concern over the new coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom.
“It may be up to 70 percent more transmissible,” he said.
France has closed ports to the United Kingdom while Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Canada have closed their borders to air traffic.
The new coronavirus variant is currently known by a couple of different unassuming names including (VUI-202012/01) for virus under investigation or based on its viral lineage it’s known as B.1.1.7.
It has 17 distinct mutations, 8 in the gene that encodes the spike protein that allows the virus to bind to and enter our cells. It is thought to have developed in a chronically infected individual.
The concern is that there has been a distinct increase in its presence in southeast England.
“Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants, we’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England,” said United Kingdom Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.
It was first identified in September and there is already evidence it has made its way to Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
So far there is no indication that this variant produces more severe illness or would make the existing vaccines any less effective.
There are ongoing lab studies to really test if this variant is genuinely more transmissible. The issue is of course that even if it’s not more dangerous by itself, if it spreads more easily, it’s more likely to infect someone who is at higher risk and essentially still causing more illness and deaths.
In terms of whether there is any indication of if this variant could be present in the United States, there are no reports that prove it.
However, if it is truly more transmissible in time it will become a greater dominant or common strain and it really only takes one infected person to essentially import it from somewhere else.