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‘Contagious’ UK strain could become dominant COVID-19 variant by March 2021, warns CDC

The new Covid-19 variants carry a constellation of genetic mutations that allow increased transmissibility.

The new COVID-19 strain discovered in the United Kingdom has been found to be more contagious than the previous variants. In India, total 114 patients have been found infected with the UK strain, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : January 16, 2021 3:28 PM IST

Just when India launches the world's largest vaccination drive in the hope to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the emerging coronavirus mutations can worsen the pandemic.

A new COVID-19 strain recently discovered in the United Kingdom has been found to be more contagious than the previous variants. Estimated to have emerged in September 2020, the B.1.1.7 variant has quickly become the dominant circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant in England. It new, more contagious variant has also been detected in over 30 countries, including the United States. In its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) report, the CDC said that the new variant is likely to accelerate the spread of the virus, becoming the dominant variant by March 2021.

"Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants. The modeled trajectory of this variant in the U.S. exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March," the agency wrote.

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As of January 13, 2021, approximately 76 cases of B.1.1.7 have been detected in 10 U.S. states, the CDC noted. In India, total 114 patients have been found infected with the new UK strain, the Health Ministry said on Friday. To ensure that it does not spread in the country, the government has enforced strict rules for international passengers, including mandatory testing before and after the flight.

The ministry said that the situation is under careful watch. All the patients infected with the new strain of coronavirus are kept in single-room government quarantine centres, and their close contacts are also being quarantined. Genome sequencing to ascertain the strain of infection is going on for other samples, it added.

New COVID-19variants spreading more efficiently

In addition to the B.1.1.7 variant, multiple countries have reported detecting SARS-CoV-2 variants that spread more efficiently in late fall 2020. Notable variants include the B.1.351 lineage first detected in South Africa and B.1.1.28 subclade (renamed "P.1") detected in Brazil. According to the CDC, these variants "carry a constellation of genetic mutations, including in the S protein receptor-binding domain, which is essential for binding to the host cell angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2) receptor to facilitate virus entry."

The mutations might not only allow increased transmissibility but also affect the performance of some diagnostic RT-PCR assays and reduce susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies, the agency stated in its report.

Researchers have identified that the B.1.1.7 variant, which was discovered first in the UK, carries a mutation in the S protein (N501Y) that affects the conformation of receptor-binding domain. This variant also has 13 other mutations including a deletion at positions 69 and 70 (del69 70) that is hypothesized to increase transmissibility.

Emerging evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 can transmit more efficiently than other SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in the United Kingdom.

The CDC projected that the B.1.1.7 variant has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months, becoming the predominant variant in March.

New SARS-CoV-2 variants could result in more deaths

Although, there is no known difference in clinical outcomes associated with the described SARS-CoV-2 variants, the CDC warned that a higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases. This could increase the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbate the burden on an already strained health care system, and result in more deaths, it said.

"Taking measures to reduce transmission now can lessen the potential impact of B.1.1.7 and allow critical time to increase vaccination coverage," the agency wrote.

In addition to enhanced genomic surveillance, continued compliance with effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to limiting the spread of the virus, it noted.

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