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Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) meeting on the SARS-CoV-2 variant under investigation, VUI-202012/01, took place on the 18 December.

Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, said:

“The spread of this new virus variant could be due to many factors.  As we saw with the earlier D614G variant – just higher viral loads in clinical diagnostic swabs or in cell culture may not necessarily translate to a more transmissible virus at the population level.

“A higher genomic growth rate in the samples sequenced, may not necessarily mean higher transmissibility, e.g. if there was a rave of several thousand people where this variant was introduced and infected many people mostly in that rave, this may seem very high compared to a lower background of non-variant virus, e.g. in an otherwise prevailing national lockdown.

“The NERVTAG team appear to be being very careful about such comparisons – and possible ‘founder effects’ that might be misleading – which is good.

“At least two of the mutations in this new variant, N501Y (since at least Apr 2020 in Brazil) and 69-70del (since at least Jan/Feb 2020 in Thailand/Germany) were already circulating globally prior to combining into this new variant.

“This is quite normal for viruses – like influenza – where different viruses may infect the same person, leading to a hybrid virus emerging.  This is just one of the ways that natural viral variation arises.

“We are not seeing any increased virulence (clinical severity) or any gross changes in the S (spike protein) that will reduce vaccine effectiveness – so far.

“New viruses will adapt to a new host over time – with decreasing mortality, and possibly increasing transmissibility.

“It makes no sense for the virus to kill its host – rather better for it to replicate to high levels in the host, causing few symptoms – so that the host can stay mobile and appear well (asymptomatic) – to allow it to mingle further with those who are still susceptible – and spread its genes further.

“We are now likely seeing some of this new host adaptation process in SARS-COV-2, but it remains to be seen whether mortality will be different with this variant than with the previous one.”

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

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MIL OSI United Kingdom