British experts raised alarm about a new Covid variant that has been discovered in Botswana. This is believed to be the most mutational version of the virus.
So far, only 10 cases have been reported of this strain that could be called ‘Nu’.
It has been seen in three countries so it is likely that the variant is more common.
It has 32 mutations. Many of these indicate that it is highly transmissible, vaccine-resistant, as well as having more modifications to spike protein than any other variant.
Francois Balloux is a University College London geneticist who said that it was likely to have emerged as a lingering infection in an immunocompromised person, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.
Current jabs are unable to combat changes to the spike because they train the immune systems to recognize an older version.
Dr Tom Peacock, an Imperial College virologist, was the first to notice its spread. He described the combination of mutations as “horrific”
He said that B.1.1.529 was a scientific name for the strain and could be worse than almost any other about it, including the world-dominant Delta.
MailOnline was told by scientists that the unprecedented number of mutations could work against it, making it unstable, which would prevent it from spreading.
They stated that there was no reason to be concerned as there are no signs of it spreading quickly.
To date, three infections were detected in Botswana and six in South Africa. South Africa has a stronger surveillance system.
A 36-year old man from Hong Kong, who just returned from Europe, has been seen in one of the cases.
In Britain, there are no known cases. The UK Health Security Agency took over Public Health England’s duties and said that it was closely monitoring the situation.
According to the official spokesperson of the Prime Minister, the variant is not considered an issue for the UK.
Because of the’very extensive’ number of mutations, concern has been expressed about the mutant variant.
Francois Balloux is a University College London geneticist who said that it was probable the variant would be more capable of evading antibodies than Delta.
MailOnline was informed by him that it should be closely watched for the moment.
“But it’s not necessary to be too concerned, except if it starts increasing in frequency.”
According to him, the many mutations suggest that it may have been caused by a lingering infection in an immune-compromised individual such as an AIDS patient.
Patients with weak immune systems can have infections that last for months. This is because their body is not able to fight them off.
This allows the virus to develop mutations that enable it to bypass the body’s defenses.
Scientists have previously suggested that the Kent ‘Alpha” variant could have been created in this manner.
Professor Lawrence Young, Warwick Medical School’s virologist, stated that it “looks like” this mutant strain might be more effective at avoiding vaccine-triggered immunity than other mutants due to its mutations.
He added, “It’s always hard to say just looking at [mutations]”, and so much depends upon how the immune system perceives and responds to the change.
“But it seems like just because there is a severe load of mutations — some of which are quite well-known in terms of harming transmission — it may be slightly more worrying than the South African one.
He stated that it was difficult to determine if the virus would be more transmissible at this stage than Delta.
Professor David Livermore of the University of East Anglia is a microbiologist who said that the Botswana version had raised concern due to its “very extensive” set of mutations.
He stated that this increased the chance of vaccine escape but does not prove it will happen.
“Nor is the strain’s infectiousness obvious, and it will also be affected by spike’s structure.
Botswana has a variant with mutations K417N, and E484A which are very similar to the South African Beta’ variant. This made it more able to avoid vaccines.
It also contains the N440K on Delta and the S477N on the New York variant. These are both linked to antibody escape.
This variant also contains mutations N679K and P681H, which are ‘rarely observed together’ and could increase its jab resistance.
The mutation N501Y, which makes viruses more transmissible, was previously found on Beta and the Kent ‘Alpha” variants of the virus.
It also has Q478K and Q446S mutations. However, their significance is still not clear.
Dr Meera Chand from the UKHSA said that the UK Health Security Agency is working with scientists around the world to monitor the status of SARS-CoV-2 variations as they develop and emerge.
“As viruses are known to evolve frequently and at random, it’s not uncommon for cases with new mutations to emerge. Rapid assessment is done on any variants that show evidence of spreading.
This is despite the fact that Covid cases continue to rise in the UK, but that deaths and hospitalizations are still trending downwards.
In the last 24 hours, 43,676 new cases were reported, an increase of 14.1 percent from the 38,263 positive cases on Wednesday.
722 Britons infected by the virus sought treatment on Saturday. The latest figures are now available. This represents a 7.3% drop week-on week.
Daily Covid deaths fell by 25%, with 149 people dying in the first 28 days after being tested positive.
Due to the delay between when a person becomes severely unwell and when they catch Covid, both measurements are two to three weeks behind trend.
The UK has seen a trend upwards in cases over the past two weeks after schools returned from their half-term break at beginning of the month.
The majority of infections are found in younger people, but booster jabs can reduce the number of cases among those over 60.
SAGE scientists discovered that England would have only 35,000 Covid hospitalisations today if it were infected with the virus. This is compared to 25% of a million in Germany.
Analysis by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, LSHTM, suggested that the NHS would not be overwhelmed even in case of a large surge.
To estimate immunity levels and to predict what would happen if everyone were suddenly exposed, researchers looked at the cumulative infection rates in 18 European countries.
England would be the least affected by the hypothetical scenario, with 34.720 admissions and 6.200 deaths.
Although the model was limited to England, it does not suggest that Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland would be harder hit.
For comparison, there have been over 500,000 Covid hospitalisations in England in the past 18 months. Only 140,000 people died from the virus.
According to the study, around 280,000 people would be admitted to Germany with the virus. This is the highest number of European countries. Romania would only suffer about 150,000.
Dr Rosanna Barnard and Dr Nick Davies are the researchers. Dr Adam Kucharski is one of three SAGE members whose modeling has been crucial in the development of Government policy during this pandemic.
They claimed that the country was likely to be more protected this winter due to higher levels of infection in the past and the success of the booster program in England.
After it lifted all restrictions in England in July, Britain was called the “sick man in Europe” and cases rose to up to 50,000 per day. Experts now believe that the country opened up earlier than expected, allowing it to frontload cases. This means that more people are now protected than in Europe.
Scientists believe that Britain’s longer interval between vaccines (12 weeks) has given Brits a longer-lasting immunity to jabs than the three week gap on the continent.