Coronavirus Health

UK variant is “going to sweep the world” says head of genetic surveillance program

The UK coronavirus variant that has “swept the country” is “going to sweep the world in all probability” Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, told the BBC on Wednesday. 

The highly transmissible UK strain of coronavirus was first identified in September 2020, in the English county of Kent. It has already been detected in at least 86 countries and was the catalyst for the UK’s current lockdown. 

Peacock predicted that her sequencing work, which tracks mutations of the coronavirus, will likely be required for another decade as the virus continues to circulate throughout the world. 

“We’re building up a list, a kind of leader board of mutations that we worry about that we can look out for … I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view,” She told the BBC’s Newscast podcast.  

Where did it come from? Speaking on the origins of the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, Peacock said there was growing scientific literature suggesting it had evolved in an immunosuppressed patient. 

“This virus is so different to everything else that was circulating that there are only two possible explanations, one is that it was introduced, the second explanation is very plausible, and that is that it was in a patient who had a simmering infection for many months and that virus had the opportunity to adapt and change over time. I think there is some growing literature evidence that this is the case” Peacock said. 

“Jury out” on whether variant is more deadly:Addressing a Downing Street news conference in late January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had warned that the new UK variant could be 30% more lethal than previous strains. 

Peacock told the BBC on Wednesday that no concrete evidence had emerged to support that theory. “The jury is still out on that, I don’t think the evidence is really firm … I think it’s still under investigation,” she said.

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