A new variant of the CCP virus has been identified in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday.
Hancock told Parliament that over 1,000 cases have been identified with this variant, “predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas and numbers are increasing rapidly.”
The new variant “may be associated” with the faster spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus in the South of England, Hancock said.
“I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease, ” Hancock assured MPs, “and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.”
Hancock said that the UK has notified the World Health Organization of the new variant, and Public Health England is continuing its analysis of it.
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of research charity Wellcome, said that there had been many mutations since the CCP virus emerged in 2019.
“This is to be expected, SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and these viruses mutate and change,” Farrar said.
“Most of the mutations will not be significant or cause for concern, but some may give the virus an evolutionary advantage which may lead to higher transmission or mean it is more harmful.”
Farrar said the full significance of the new variant is not yet clear.
“The surveillance and research must continue and we must take the necessary steps to stay ahead of the virus,” he said.
Dr. Andrew Davidson, Reader in Virology at the University of Bristol, said a number of studies suggest that the new strain does not result in more severe disease. He also said that it’s unlikely the vaccine would be less effective on it.
“The vaccine produces antibodies against many regions in the spike protein it is very unlikely a single change would make the vaccine less effective. However this could happen over time as more mutations occur (happens every year with flu for example).”
Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, also said there had been no evidence showing the new variant would result in a more severe disease.
“Some variants with changes in the Spike protein have already been observed as the virus is intensely sequenced here in the UK and around the world,” she said.
“This variant contains some mutations in Spike protein that is the major target of vaccines, and it will be important to establish whether they impact vaccine efficacy by performing experiments in the coming weeks,” Barclay added.