US News Coronavirus: The British variant has developed a mutation that worries scientists
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HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-GB-MUTATION: Coronavirus: The British variant has developed a mutation that worries scientists
by Estelle Shirbon and Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - The coronavirus variant detected in England has developed a new mutation which scientists say makes it similar to the so-called South African and Brazilian variants and could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
According to the health agency Public Health England (PHE), 11 cases of this new variant with the E484K mutation have been reported, mainly in the southwest of England.
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© Marty MELVILLE / AFP New Zealand's record in the fight against Covid-19 has been hailed abroad, the archipelago totaling less than 2,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. The first locally infected person in New Zealand in more than two months has the South African variant of the coronavirus. The transmission probably took place during his quarantine.
The E484K mutation, which occurs on the virus's "spike" protein, is the same as that seen on the South African and Brazilian variants which have raised concerns internationally.
"PHE is monitoring the situation closely and all necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, including strengthening of contact tracing and control measures," said a spokesperson for the agency.
Several laboratory studies have shown that the variant of the coronavirus identified for the first time in South Africa decreases the effectiveness of vaccines.
In contrast, the results showed that the vaccines worked just as well against the so-called British variant before the E484K mutation.
Health Minister Matt Hancock said it was too early to know the impact of variants on vaccines but worrying cases of the mutation have been reported in Bristol and Liverpool.
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"We must continue to act with caution, especially given the new challenges posed by new variants of the coronavirus," he told MEPs.
Calum Semple, a member of the UK government advisory committee, told the BBC that E484K was the "mutation of most concern" and had "occurred spontaneously" in the UK variant.
The name E484K, in simple terms, works like the coordinates of a map. The number 484 is the exact location of the mutation, the letter E is the amino acid it originally was and the letter K is the amino acid it has become.
Concern over the South African variant and the E484K mutation prompted the British authorities to launch a campaign of massive door-to-door tests in areas where cases have been discovered, in people unrelated to South Africa.
With this new mutation, and despite a low number of cases, scientists believe that a strategy of simply trying to prevent the importation of new variants is insufficient.
"This report would seem to suggest that under conditions of very high levels of virus replication, even the strictest border controls, although they may delay the spread, are unlikely to prevent the emergence of new variants" said Jonathan Stoye, virologist at the Francis Crick Institute.
(With Kate Kelland, French version Kate Entringer, edited by Bertrand Boucey)
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