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  • What Does a New COVID-19 Variant Mean?

What Does a New COVID-19 Variant Mean?

Jan 07 2021 Read 611 Times

Just as a trio of vaccines sparked hope for a return to normalcy, a pair of new COVID-19 variants has swept the UK and sent the country back into lockdown. Highly infectious, the strains were first identified in Kent and Greater London using genomic surveillance. They quickly spread across the nation and have now been identified in countries around the world, including Australia. So what do the new COVID-19 strains mean?

UK plunged back into lockdown

For the United Kingdom the emergence of the two new COVID-19 strains has led to the reintroduction of a nationwide lockdown. Across the country, citizens are now only allowed to leave the house for exercise, shopping and medical supplies. The stay-at-home order has led to the closure of most schools, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson asserting he had "no choice" but to shut down the country after the number of new daily confirmed cases rose above 60,000 on January 5th. The number of patients admitted to hospital is 40% higher than recorded during the first wave and has sparked serious concerns the healthcare system could soon collapse under the pressure.

Renewed caution over international arrivals

One of the new variants originated in South Africa, with scientists identifying multiple mutations in this particular strain. Many of the mutations affect the spike protein that studs the exterior of the virus and helps it infect human cells. Of particular concern is the N501Y mutation, which could help fast-track transmission. The international origins have sparked calls from health professionals to enforce mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals, a policy that has helped prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Australia. Rapid testing for travellers arriving from overseas has also been proposed. This would prevent new strains of COVID-19 from infiltrating the community.

The importance of social distancing

The second mutant strain of COVID-19 originated in Kent, with data suggesting it developed in a single patient and was then rapidly transmitted to others. The discovery of the new strain has reinforced the need for strict social distancing and hygiene measures. While masks are currently mandatory when travelling on public transport and shopping at supermarkets, experts say the new variants highlight the need to wear face coverings in all enclosed spaces.

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