A flight ban from the UK to the Netherlands and rigorous lockdown measures in South-East England, all the result of a new mutated variant of the coronavirus, which seems to be easier to spread. To many questions the answer is still unclear, this is what we now know:
Is the virus really spreading faster?
British research shows that the mutated virus does not make you sicker, but the new variant is moving faster. According to Prime Minister Johnson, even 70 percent faster.
Virologist Marion Koopmans points out that the rapid spread in England can also have other causes. It may be that the variant is indeed more contagious, but it may also be that there has been a super-spreading event which has spread faster. “I heard it saw black of people last week on Oxford Street in London.” Oxford Street is a well-known shopping street in the British capital.
Initial results of British research show that the new variant has properties that make it easier to bind to cells and possibly to penetrate them more easily. But to find out how quickly much more research is needed, about the virus itself in laboratories and on the test results of coronapatics.
What about in the Netherlands?
In the Netherlands, one case of the new variant was identified at the beginning of December, but that does not mean that it does not yet spread here, because of all corona-virussts that are taken, only a handful of them are considered to be the variant. In order to gain a better understanding of the spread, more so-called virus characterisations must be carried out.
And in other countries?
Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst explained to VRT NWS that the new variant of the virus has also emerged in Belgium. “In about 1,600 cases we have encountered the variant four times”, says Van Ranst. Belgium has also suspended all flights from Great Britain. As far as we know, the mutated variant has not yet emerged in another country.
In Italy, too, the virus has emerged, as it became clear this evening. The patient just came back from a few days in the UK, let the Ministry know.
Are the vaccines still effective against the new variant?
Yes, for now, expect Koopmans. “Youre talking about a mutation in a place that we know is an important target for protective antibodies. But that doesnt mean that the vaccines dont work anymore. A vaccination contains a wide range of antibodies, as well as immune cells, so its not the case that a single mutation destroying all these defenses.”
the longer term, vaccines may need to be adjusted slightly, as is the case for influenza vaccines, for which the vaccine composition is reviewed twice a year by the WHO.
Are these mutations more common?
Koopmans emphasises that this is not the first mutation. The virus is constantly changing. A mutation is actually a copy error. “When such a virus enters your body, it goes into cells and copies itself. Youre going to be some kind of virus factory. One virus goes in, a thousand come out. Copying that happens a bit sloppy, mistakes are made and those are mutations.”
CCEit on 3 explains in this video that it is inevitable that viruses mutate. At the time the video was published in mid-November, there were already 3300 variations worldwide:
Occasionally, there is a mutation that really changes the effectiveness of the virus. Such a change occurred, for example, in February, when the D614G mutation was created, which is now dominant in Western Europe. That was also a virus mutation that led the virus to spread a little easier.
Professor of molecular virology Eric Snijder points out that the mutated variant is not suddenly a completely different virus. “You can compare it to a Christmas tree in which you hang a few balls. Then its still a Christmas tree. The spike protein of such a virus alone has 1273amino acids, and 1265 of them has not changed anything. This virus is still 98.8 percent the same as that of a year ago in Wuhan.”
The South African Health Minister announced on Friday that a new mutation was found there too. They called that mutation 501.V2. According to him, this would be the cause of the second wave of infections in the country. South Africa correspondent Bram Vermeulen sees that people are increasingly worried there. Within two weeks, the number of infections per day has doubled to over 10,000 infections a day. “Thats crazy, because were almost in the hottest month of the year.”
Are additional measures needed now?
The flight ban from England which has now been established is mainly taken as a precaution, says RIVM. “On theWhen they say abroad: something is going on here, you take this measure just to be safe because you want to prevent it from coming here,” says a spokesman.
The new corona variant was established in England as early as September. “Obviously something has happened now and they have decided to take additional measures.”
More research is now needed to determine whether the new variant really poses new risks, say virologists. “We dont know exactly what the new variant does,” says Koopmans. “In the meantime, the message is: stick to the measures.”