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Covid: What do we know about the ‘Yorkshire variant’?

Public Health England labels it ‘under investigation’

Additional contact-tracing is being employed to tackle new variant, PHE says
Additional contact-tracing is being employed to tackle new variant, PHE says

Scientists are investigating a new so-called “triple mutant” coronavirus variant said to have infected 49 people in England, largely in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Friday that it is “closely monitoring” the variant, officially dubbed VUI-21MAY-01, or AV.1, having first discovered it in April.

It is now one of eight currently labelled a “variant under investigation” by the health agency, which said it is from a lineage subjected to closer monitoring on 6 May based on its “unusual mutation profile”.

It will only be designated a “variant of concern” if scientists conclude it poses a heightened risk. Health officials have stressed that there is currently no evidence to suggest that AV.1 could cause more severe disease or render vaccines any less effective.

While variants typically carry around a dozen mutations, the variant has been – unofficially – dubbed a “triple mutant”, as a result of it carrying three notable mutations seen in other variants of concern.

One of these is E484K – a spike protein mutation found in the South African and Brazilian variants which scientists have said appears to impact immune response. Another is N439K, a mutation linked with immune escape, which caused brief concern in Scotland before dropping off the radar in June last year.

The third is P681H, which is found in the Kent variant responsible for the UK’s vast wave of deaths in January and is linked to greater transmissibility.

The origins of the variant are unclear, and the BBC reports that cases have also been discovered in Greece and Chad.

Scientists have been watching and sequencing the variant since the “strange combination of mutations” were first discovered several weeks ago, said Dr Kev Smith, from PHE.

“So far the people that we have identified are not particularly infectious, they're not really getting more sick than other cases of coronavirus and we're not seeing anything particularly worrying about it,” he said.

Sheffield’s director of public health, Greg Fell, said his team had been monitoring the variant “as we do with all outbreaks across the city”, and had been working with PHE and Test and Trace officials.

“Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case-finding will be used to limit the spread of variants,” Mr Fell said in a statement.

“Please don’t be alarmed, we want you to continue doing what you have been for the past year,” he added. “Follow the guidance, continue to wash your hands regularly and wear a mask indoors.

Asked about the new variant on Friday, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “There are three mutations of the B1617 strain, as I think has been discussed previously, but as we do with all variants where we spot and identify them through our genomic sequencing programme," the spokesperson said.

“We will continue to monitor them and we will designate them as variants under investigation, and then variants of concern if we deem them to be of greater risk.

“But again, as you’ve seen throughout the pandemic, that’s what we’ve done and we won’t hesitate to put in measures that we think are necessary to try and tackle the transmission of any variants.”

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