The new mutant strain of COVID-19 that has forced the United Kingdom to go into lockdown was detected in Australia in late November, according to the New South Wales (NSW) health officials.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant explained that two Australians returning home from the UK tested positive to mutated variant of the virus.
“We’ve had a couple of UK returned travellers with the particular mutations you’re referring to,” Dr Chant said.
The Daily Mail reported on Dec. 22 that the virus was first detected in Australia in a traveller from the United Kingdom in late November, and the second on Dec. 7.
Both returnees were placed into a special health accommodation kept in hospital until no longer infectious.
Chant was also clear that the current strain from an outbreak in Avalon, on Sydney’s northern beaches does not have the UK mutations.
New Strain May Effect Vaccine Efficacy
Newly appointed Chief Medical Officer for Australia, Dr. Paul Kelly said on Tuesday that the CCP (Chinese Communist Pary) virus (novel coronavirus) had been continuously undergoing “thousands of mutations” since its discovery in Wuhan, China.
Kelly explained the UK strain, which is currently circulating in south-east UK, has some particular mutations related to the spike protein, which could cause issues with the vaccines.
“That is important because it is the way the virus gets into the cells and also the particular part of the virus that the vaccines are attacking, all the vaccines are related to the spike protein,” he added.
Kelly noted though that he was not certain yet whether the change was making the virus more transmissible or if it was environmental factors such as relaxed restrictions in the UK that brought about the increased spread.
“The infectious agent has changed a little, there are a lot of people moving around in south-east England or have been until the recent lockdown. It is also winter, so those all three are important elements to consider,” he said.
British health authorities have echoed Kelly’s sentiments.
In a media statement released on Dec. 20, Public Health England said, “evidence shows that infection rates in geographical areas where this particular variant has been circulating have increased faster than expected, and the modelling evidence has demonstrated that this variant has a higher transmission rate than other variants in current circulation.”
However, they were not sure if the new mutations will affect the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine and are currently pursuing laboratory work to investigate the situation.
Border To UK Remains Open
Australia will not be closing the border to the UK, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison noting he did not believe it was warranted at this time.
“Our hotel quarantine system has been a very effective and important defence in the vast majority of cases,” Morrison said.
“But I’d stress this, it’s not just about the quarantine, it’s also then about the response and the behaviours that people follow and so as we go into these last few days before Christmas, I think it is good to be mindful that the virus hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Currently, all Australians returning from the UK have to undergo 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine.