Like all previous viruses, SARS-CoV-2 has only one goal: survival.
The longer the outbreak lasts, the more people are infected, but because they survive the infection, the number of susceptible bodies to be infected decreases.
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The best chance for longevity is to evolve.
For this, the virus must be in the right balance. If it is too fatal, you risk killing the host before finding another host.
So the trick is to make it more contagious but less lethal, which greatly increases the spread and sustainability of the virus.
You may not know exactly what the British strain looks like, but it seems that around six months after the pandemic began, the virus has found the perfect body to perform this strain.
This single infection has led to the emergence of a new form of coronavirus and pioneering a deadly route around the world.
Real-time updates: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the end of 2020 approaches, UK health advisers have become increasingly concerned about the second wave sweeping the country.
In September, they discovered that the coronavirus was spreading at a faster rate. And as winter approaches, cases were expected to increase.
As experts discuss the need for more action, the government has moved to a higher alert level.
British Health Minister Matt Hancock at the time warned, “The country is now facing a turning point in its response, and it is important for everyone to do their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives.”
In the last few months of 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK continued to grow as new strains spread. (Reuters: Hannah McKay)
However, a new variant has already appeared. It will take over the country in a few months.
Referenced as VUI-202012/01 or variant B117, a harmless string of letters and numbers, first identified in Kent County on September 20th.
Its existence was not confirmed by the British government until December 14th. By that time, tensions were already spreading to dangerous efficiencies, and cases surged in southeast England and London.
At the time, British officials warned that it could be 70% more contagious. Further research suggests that it could be 36 to 71% more infected than the original Wuhan virus.
Either way, this variant changed the course of the British pandemic.
And just a month later, the tentacles spread all over the world.
It is currently in 80 countries, including Australia, and has triggered rapid blockades in Queensland, Victoria and Washington.
From one patient to the world?
The exact circumstances of the birth of the British variant can forever remain a mystery.
However, most scientists agree that this virus has evolved only in one person whose infected body has been infected with the virus for longer than the average 14-day incubation period.
According to Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland, this patient may have had chronic COVID-19 infection for a long time.
“Perhaps [it was] An individual with weak immunity,” she said.
Many experts believe that the UK variant may have originated from a chronic COVID-19 infection. (AP: Victoria Jones / PA)
When influenza infects a person with a chronic condition, the immune system takes longer to fight the virus.
“They can get influenza for months [and are] In fact, they are more likely to produce these virus strains than individuals with short and acute infections. “” said Dr. Short.
“So let’s say that every time a virus replicates, it mutates once. If there were an individual with a virus replicated 500 times, there would be more mutations than an individual with the virus replicated five times.”
One silver lining of this epidemic that scientists initially identified is that the coronavirus mutates much more slowly than influenza or HIV.
Previous studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 generally does not exhibit more than a few mutations and can build up at a relatively consistent rate over time.
According to one estimate, the circulating SARS-CoV-2 lineage accumulates at a rate of about 1 to 2 mutations per month.
However, the British variant is different.
There are 23 mutations compared to the original virus found in Wuhan, 17 of which appeared after the virus was isolated from the latest version.
The’Frankenstein’ strain that surprised scientists
Damian Purcell found a “big surprise” in an online database of global SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences in their Melbourne lab at the end of 2020.
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Peter Doherty, head of the Institute of Molecular Virology at the Institute of Infection and Immunology in Melbourne, was investigating the details of a new British strain.
“We were really surprised. Actually, looking at this and saying,’Wow, look how many mutations this virus has, look where it is. It’s too much in the spike protein.’
Spike proteins are found outside the virus and are suitable for receptors inside our bodies and allow the virus to infect us.
It essentially acts like a key to unlocking our body against coronavirus infection.
“This is the protein we are most interested in in terms of understanding the efficacy of the vaccines we are testing,” said Professor Purcell.
The strange feature of the British variant quickly gained a nickname.
“We initially called this virus Frankenstein.
“It’s essentially made up of several parts, and there are mutations that you can see in individual viruses here and there, but they all appear in one virus, so it’s amazing.”
Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine: UK shuts down too late
Countries with soaring infections are more likely to produce these strains as the virus finds more hosts.
However, it is possible that tensions in the UK began elsewhere and entered through an unsuspecting foreign traveler.
Purcell said the strain could have been discovered due to the fact that the UK studies the genome sequence of positive COVID cases more than most other countries.
“So England would have seen it because they were looking for it, and you can’t find it unless you see it,” he said.
However, while tools were available to identify new strains, British authorities were still pursuing as these seemingly rapidly spreading strains spread across the country.
As Christmas approaches, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned celebrations and travel. (Reuters: Toby Melville)
By November 2020, about a quarter of cases in London were identified with the new variant. It reached 60% in mid-December.
Britain’s health system is nearing its limits, and public health experts have warned of a deadly winter unlike any other.
With few options left, Prime Minister Boris Johnson soon delivered a Christmas message that no one wanted to hear.
Mr. Johnson said on December 19th, “I want to tell you that we cannot continue Christmas as planned.”
“I sincerely believe that there is no open alternative to me.”
Learn more about the coronavirus: a mutation some scientists call’Eek’
The British strain is not the first to emerge from the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Thousands of versions of the virus can now spread around the world.
In most cases, the variant does not significantly affect the outbreak and most of it disappears.
But sometimes viruses have breakthroughs. New strains find ways to infect more hosts and, in rare cases, become the dominant force in the pandemic.
Although recently focused on the British strain, other experts are closely monitoring potential new strains identified in the state of California, USA.
The COVID-19 strain, first identified in South Africa, is characterized by a major mutation that can make it less responsive to the vaccine. (AP: Shiraaz Mohamed)
But if there is one mutation more than all other mutations that fear scientists, it is called E484K.
“We give small and pet names to many virus strains in our lab,” said Professor Purcell. “There is another mutation related to B1.351, also known as the South African virus.”
“It has this mutation known as E484K. It is called’Eek’ because of its potential to escape antibody immunity.”
E484K can make it harder for your immune system to recognize and fight viruses, even if your body has learned how to fight viruses with a vaccine.
What does this mean for the world’s vaccination push?
What experts worry about is how this could affect the launch of the COVID-19 vaccine, which may not be effective against the new strain.
Earlier this month South Africa stopped launching the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. After a small study suggested that it offers minimal protection against mild and moderate infections caused by coronavirus strains.
It sent the Oxford team to make corrections. However, the reality is that this kind of frustration is expected in vaccine development, especially as more strains surface.
According to Larisa Rabin of the University of Queensland Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, a complete COVID-19 vaccine may never exist.
“When I say that, it essentially means one that helps us eradicate the virus completely,” she said.
“This stops the transmission and works for all potential variants, which means we can immediately go back to pre-COVID times.”
Experts say the vaccine will be effective against most strains. (Supply: Ash Mills)
However, existing vaccines on the market can prevent serious COVID-19 cases associated with the South African strain.
“I think there is still evidence that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can do that, and we will be able to reach more people faster,” Labzin said.
“It could be a temporary fix to give us time to manufacture other potentially more effective vaccines.
“It will also be possible to update the vaccine to reflect the new variant.”
There’s still light at the end of the tunnel
The emergence of new strains shows that even with vaccines released in some countries, the threat posed by the coronavirus does not disappear.
Instead, it’s more important than ever to follow public health advice on wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large gatherings.
“This strain has small legs. It is not Superman compared to the original,” Purcell said.
“They were a little more aggressive and more successful, but these measures still work equally well for them.”
Nevertheless, he believes that the safest way we can get out of the crisis is still in the worldwide vaccine launch.
“[It’s] Viruses will play a crucial role in eliminating the chances of spitting out these monsters, this unfortunate mutation will be successful and will break your vaccine immunity. “He said.
“So more people can get vaccinated, and the sooner you get the vaccine, the better.”
What you need to know about coronavirus:
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