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Covid19 B117: A New Enemy?

New UK variant of the COVID19 virus is a global cause for concern

By: Hyerin Jeong


Ever since the start of 2020, the number of positive COVID19 tests has been reported nearly every day in Canada. Despite vaccines being approved for use in Canada, rollout has been rather slow. Moreover, a new UK variant has garnered attention due to its spike in infectiousness compared to the previous dominant strain. This has understandably caused Canadians to worry that stay at home orders may once again be extended well into spring.


A rapid spread of a new strain



Due to international travel, this new variant has been detected globally from Canada to Malaysia. The UK strain, formally named VUI-202012/01 or B117, is one of the new variants of COVID19 that has spread to at least 31 countries. However, this UK variant has garnered attention because it is 70% more infectious than the normal strain. With vaccine rollout slower than ideal in most countries, this new strain is spreading rapidly in the UK, and cases of these strains are already increasing in Canada. Two cases of the mutated virus have been detected in Ontario for the first time on December 26th, 2020, and additional new cases of the UK strain have been detected since.


What makes the new strain dangerous?


This UK strain of COVID19 is more infectious because of a mutation of the spike proteins on the surface of the virus. These spike proteins are essential for the virus to attach and target cells for infection. Specifically, studies have identified 17 changes to the spike proteins in this variant that allows it to more effectively contact the cell surface and allow the virus to penetrate inside.


However, there is some hope regarding this new strain. Studies have shown that the UK strain is no deadlier than the dominant strain and the vaccines developed also effectively target this strain. Yet, there is also some data showing that the UK strain is more resistant to antibodies produced by previously infected patients.




Not the only one…


Unfortunately, this is not the only strain of COVID19 causing concern. Recently a South African strain has also been identified that has scientists arguably more concerned than the UK variant. Specifically, the South African strain has an E484K mutation that may be resistant to COVID19 vaccines. In fact, this strain is dubbed an “escape mutant” because it is unaffected by some of the antibodies produced by COVID19 vaccines.


Concerningly, a new Japan variant has also been identified in early January with mutations that may result in higher transmission. However, little data is available for this novel strain.


Implications in Ontario?


Recent studies indicate that the B117 variant could replace the dominant strain in Ontario as early as the end of February. With the disappointingly slow rollouts of vaccines, it is unlikely that we can rely solely on inoculations to protect ourselves from the UK variant. As a more contagious strain, the best course of action is pre


ventative measures such as staying home and wearing masks. Although people are growing fatigued of the restrictions during the pandemic, following these restrictions is the only way to end this lockdown as soon as possible.



References


Arambaut. “Preliminary Genomic Characterisation of an Emergent SARS-CoV-2 Lineage in the UK Defined by a Novel Set of Spike Mutations.” Virological, 21 Dec. 2020, virological.org/t/preliminary-genomic-characterisation-of-an-emergent-sars-cov-2-lineage-in-the-uk-defined-by-a-novel-set-of-spike-mutations/563.



Cohen, Elizabeth Cnn Senior Medical Correspondent. “Scientists Fear the ‘escape Mutant’ in Coronavirus Variant from South Africa.” CNN, 13 Jan. 2021, edition.cnn.com/2021/01/12/health/coronavirus-mutation-south-africa-variant/index.html.



Gallagher, By James. “New Coronavirus Variant: What Do We Know?” BBC News, 20 Dec. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/health-55388846.



Meredith, Sam. “Japan Has Found a New Covid Variant. Here’s How It Compares to Virus Strains in the UK, South Africa.” CNBC, 11 Jan. 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/01/11/japan-covid-variant-how-it-compares-to-strains-in-uk-south-africa.html.


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