An ambulance worker collects Covid-19 test kits during a door-to-door bulk testing operation in Maidstone, United Kingdom, on Tuesday February 2, 2021.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
LONDON – The UK is working hard to contain the spread of additional mutations in the coronavirus. The more worrying variant, first spotted in South Africa, occurs spontaneously in different parts of the country.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country was “coming down hard” on the South African variant after 105 cases were reported, and 11 of those cases were unrelated to international travel.
Because of this, the UK has launched an expanded testing program for around 80,000 people living in areas where cases with the mutation have been found. Tests are offered door-to-door and positive cases are then scored to see if they are caused by the South African variant.
People in these areas have been told to consider limiting the time they spend outside their homes as health officials struggle to prevent another from spreading more contagious variant. A mutation now known as the “British Mutation” has already become the dominant tribe in many parts of the country.
Public Health England released earlier this week another technical briefing in which it warned that a handful of coronavirus cases of the variant first found in the UK had actually mutated further to include the E484K mutation first seen in the variant from South Africa.
Mutations in a virus are normal; Viruses are constantly mutating. However, experts and policy makers are concerned about mutations that allow the virus to spread much faster.
The South African variant had other concerned experts who were concerned that coronavirus vaccines developed last year may not be as effective against it. There were also concerns that the South African variant might evade antibodies.
Vaccine manufacturers have indicated that there is little evidence that their shots are ineffective against new variants, and that they should be able to adapt their vaccines to new variants in a few weeks if necessary.
British Pharma on Wednesday GlaxoSmithKline and German biotech company CureVac announced a € 150 million ($ 180 million) contract to develop Covid vaccines that target multiple variants in one product. The partners hope to be able to launch such vaccines in 2022.
The UK vaccination program continues to pick up pace and is well on its way to vaccinating its four top priority groups (those over 70, residents and workers in nursing homes, frontline health and social workers and the most clinically vulnerable) by mid-February 15 million people.
By February 1, over 9.6 million people had received a first dose of the vaccine, and just under 500,000 had received two doses, according to government figures.