COVID-19: New SARS-CoV-2 Mutation Found in Bristol 'Of Concern'

Peter Russell

February 10, 2021

Two new indigenous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been discovered in the UK.

One of the new variants, VOC-202102/02, first identified in Bristol, has been labelled a 'variant of concern'.

It is the fourth variant of concern identified by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

The other new variant, VUI 202102/01, identified first in Liverpool, has been placed under investigation.

Spike Protein Mutation

The Bristol variant is a mutation of the VOC-202012/01, or B1.1.7, strain of SARS-CoV-2 first found in Kent.

Analysis from Public Health England (PHE) observed 21 cases of the 'Bristol' variant, known as VOC 202102/02. It contains the E484K spike protein mutation, that some experts think could help the virus slip past the body's immune defences, and might reduce vaccine efficacy.

The VUI 202102/01 'Liverpool' variant has the E484K spike protein mutation and a small number of other mutations that collectively have only been seen in the UK. So far, 55 cases of this variant have been found.

In total, PHE has identified 76 cases of the two new homegrown variants.

The latest analysis shows there have so far been 51,500 genomically confirmed and probable cases of the B1.1.7 'Kent/UK' variant.

South Africa Variant

The figures also reveal there have been 170 cases of the South Africa variant, VOC-202012/02, that also contains the E484K mutation. Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic response director to PHE, said: "Eighteen of these cases are unlinked to travel, and that means that they neither travelled abroad themselves, or [had] a direct contact with an individual who's travelled abroad."

Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Birmingham, said he did not expect the South Africa variant to be able to outcompete the Kent/UK variant. He told a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre: "We haven't seen anything quite like the UK variant in terms of its growth rate, in terms of its transmissibility."

However, he warned: "We are still in a lockdown situation and so that's suppressing the 'R' on all events and luckily, even on the B1.1.7. So, what applies during a lockdown is not necessarily going to be true when you relax measures. So, the fact that the South Africa variant is not doing well now doesn't mean it couldn't do well in a different context."

Dr Hopkins said: "While we expect that the vaccines will still prevent severe illness and deaths, we are taking public health action on clusters of variants with E484K to reduce the risk of spread in our population."

There have been no cases identified in the UK of the fourth variant of concern, VOC-202101/02, that was identified in travellers returning to Japan from Manaus in Brazil.

Of the other variant to emerge from Brazil, VUI-202101/01, 24 cases have been identified in the UK, all of them in England.

There is currently no agreed international naming system for variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Variants of Concern or Under Investigation: Data to 8 February 2021: Surveillance Overview, UK Total Distribution

Source: PHE


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