December 22, 2020
Scientists in the UK have discovered a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which appears to be more contagious and genetically distinct than established ones and the CDC states it “potentially be more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains.”
Here’s what scientists know so far...
The discovery has prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten restrictions over Christmas, and ban travel from the U.K. to the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries.
The new variant is now the focus of intense debate and analysis. Mutations arise as the virus replicates, and this variant, known as B.1.1.7. While the variant hasn’t been found in the U.S. yet, the CDC noted that scientists haven’t sequenced the genetic coding for many Covid-19 infections here. The agency said “viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million US cases,” so the new strain could have slipped notice according to a CNBC report.
“Ongoing travel between the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the high prevalence of this variant among current UK infections, increase the likelihood of importation,” the CDC said in a statement. “Given the small fraction of US infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”