A new surge in cases, particularly in southern England has revealed a new strain of COVID. Though it’s unclear whether this mutation is spreading faster or is more dangerous, researchers are scrambling to collect data. 

A new coronavirus strain has discovered in the UK and researchers are investigating whether it’s responsible for the latest surge in cases.

The mutation was unearthed in the South East of England, with more than 1,000 cases confirmed in the past few days.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor said in a statement this mutation was “not unexpected”, but it was important they spot changes quickly to understand its risk.

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“There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected,” she said.

Indeed, mutation of viruses is not uncommon, rather it’s something they do to ensure their survival. For example, the seasonal flu mutates every year. Thousands of COVID-19 mutations have been observed since the outbreak of the virus last year, including in Spain, though only a very small minority of those mutations are likely to be notable, i.e. in their ability to infect people or in increased severity.

According to Britain’s COVID-19 Genomics Consortium, “there is currently no evidence that this variant (or any other studied to date) has any impact on disease severity, or that it will render vaccines less effective, although both questions require further studies performed at pace.”

Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust biomedical research foundation, told the Washington Post this recent development was worth watching closely.

“The pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected,” he said.

“Most of the mutations will not be significant or cause for concern, but some may give the virus an evolutionary advantage, which may lead to higher transmission or mean it is more harmful.”

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