By Isabella Brady
Just as the UK released their newest vaccine, in a record seven months following clinical trials, a new strain of the Coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has emerged, proving more contagious than its predecessor. An emergence B.1.1.7 was originally recorded in September of 2020, and panic arose in December when the new strain dominated nearly two-thirds of the UK’s total COVID-19 cases. Currently, the new virus primarily encompasses London, and the southeast region of England, a dense population of over 16 million people at severe risk.
According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, SARS-CoV-2 conceivably advanced up to 70 percent more transmissible. While Johnson has placed a strict lockdown until the 31st of March, surrounding countries remain guarded to the possibility of a new outbreak in their regions. Recently lifted travel restrictions, including countries Belgium and Germany suspended flights from the UK for roughly 24 hours, while other countries remain unconvinced. Austria, Turkey and Switzerland all placed travel bans, while Bulgaria, differing from all, placed ongoing restrictions until the 31st of January 2021. Perhaps the most concerned of all, Ireland blocked the seasonal flow of visitors for the days preceding the Christmas holiday, for 48 hours of terminated land and sea travel in attempts to maintain their low exposure to the new mutation.
Proven more contagious, a primary concern for the UK is the increased occupancy of hospitals and high death rates. Prime Minister Johnson also announced a 30 percent increase of the virus’ deadliness, although the CDC has yet to declare evidence that suggests any truth in his statement. Presently, scientists remain fairly unperturbed, as such an event is inevitable for advanced viruses such as COVID-19. However, the fluctuation of cases paired with a fundamental change: exactly 17 major changes within the current variant. One major change includes the virus’ spike protein, which provides easier access to human cells. Consequently, the scientific community closely monitors this variant. Studies continue to confirm the virus’ response to current vaccinations, medications and tests. However, progress toward defying them, known as vaccine escape, remains an option for the quickly adapting virus.
While the cases over 5,000 miles from California may appear harmless, scientists marked cases in Canada and ten states in the United States, predicting full circulation of the US by early March. Although many unknowns remain within the realm of SARS-CoV-2’s abilities, scientists continuously remind the community to keep physically distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks in order to slow the spread and decrease opportunities for further mutation.