Coronavirus News: What We Know About the Latest Mutation in the U.K.

Swansea University Tests Students For COVID-19 Ahead Of Their Holiday Exodus

Photographer: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images 

Viruses mutate all the time, including the novel coronavirus that’s caused the global pandemic. But a variant that emerged in southeast England in September is causing particular concern, leading to an emergency lockdown in London over Christmas and causing countries including Canada, France and Germany to halt flights and suspend rail links.

1. Why is this mutation alarming?

Dubbed the “B.1.1.7 lineage,” the strain has undergone almost a dozen genetic changes from the virus that emerged from Wuhan, China in late 2019 — way more than typically observed. That includes changes in key areas of the virus involved in its ability to infect people. Preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests it may be as much as 70% more transmissible than other circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains and may be contributing to a spike in cases in the country. Maria van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on Covid-19, told the BBC on Dec. 20 that the WHO is working to understand the extent to which the virus may spread more easily, along with other human behavioral factors that may be driving transmission. It’s also looking at whether the mutation causes more severe illness and can evade the antibodies generated by vaccination.

2. What’s known about when it emerged?

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