A coronavirus variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom has since been found in more than 80 countries, prompting fears that it is on its way to becoming the dominant form of the virus globally, as reported by CNBC.
Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, explained that what happens next in the fight against the virus depends on how the virus reacts to current vaccines.
"The new variant has swept the country and it's going to sweep the world, in all probability... In the future, I think the key is going to be if something (a variant) is particularly problematic with the vaccines," she said.
The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium was created in April as part of the pandemic response by the United Kingdom. Its role is to collect, sequence and analyze the genomes of the coronavirus and has so far tracked the genetic history of more than 250,000 samples of the virus, according to the report. This group of health experts and institutes was the first to detect the more infectious variant formally known as B1.1.7 by using retrospective analysis of virus samples from Kent in southeast England.
After quickly spreading through southeast England and London, the variant has become the dominant strain in Britain. As B1.1.7 appeared in more than 80 countries across the world, local health authorities have attempted to isolate cases. Unfortunately, it is believed that the variant is already in wide circulation.
While it is not uncommon for a virus to mutate, the increased infection rate has caused concern among experts. While it is not clear if the U.K. variation is deadlier than the globally dominant form of the coronavirus, higher transmissibility means more people will catch the virus in similar circumstances, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths even if there is not a higher rate.
It isn't clear if the United Kingdom was the true starting point of the variant, as the work done by the consortium in advance genome sequencing the virus and actively finding new variants isn't replicated around the world. Variants have also been discovered in South Africa and Denmark, where there is similar scientific work in genome sequencing being done. Peacock says that sequencing of the coronavirus variants will need to be done for at least the next 10 years.
The United Kingdom has also seen two new variants emerge in the cities of Bristol and Liverpool, but they are currently in low numbers and in contained areas.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 107 million coronavirus cases globally and over 2.3 million deaths.