Fears new coronavirus strain has 'developed a superpower'

The highly-infectious UK coronavirus strain has made another “troublesome” mutation which could lead to the virus evading immunisation.

Public Health England confirmed genomic testing has found infections with the E484K mutation seen in the highly transmissible South African and Brazilian variants.

Former Harvard epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding explained various antibodies are 10 times less effective when faced with the mutation in some patients, which he described as “a rather bad thing”.

“It means the virus with E484K is worrying for “immune escape”,” he said on Twitter.

Recent research regarding the variant by the National Institute For Communicable Diseases of South Africa revealed 48 per cent of people previously positive with Covid-19 had “complete immune escape”.

Dr Feigl-Ding said it has potential to become a “super strain”, while Sky’s science correspondent said the strain had “developed a superpower”.

Public Health England said there were 11 cases detected, and Dr Feigl-Ding said evidence suggested they were acquired independently, meaning the virus was evolving separately.

And while early research suggests the mutation is more resistant to antibodies, vaccine developers including Moderna and Pfizer believe their vaccines will work despite a slight drop in effectiveness.

The UK continues to record more than 20,000 cases a day. Source: AP
The UK continues to record more than 20,000 cases a day. Source: AP

Health minister Matt Hancock said it was too early to tell the impact of variants on vaccines, but mutations of concern had been reported in Bristol and Liverpool.

"We must continue to act with caution, not least because of the renewed challenges posed by new variants of the coronavirus," he told lawmakers.

UK starts door-to-door testing

Calum Semple, who is part of a panel that advises the British government, told BBC radio that E484K was the "mutation of most concern", and had "occurred spontaneously" in the UK variant.

Public Health England said it was “monitoring the situation closely”.

“All necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing and control measures,” a spokesperson said.

Authorities in the UK, which is currently under a nationwide lockdown, have begun door-to-door mobile testing in a bid to get the full picture on the mutation’s prevalence.

“In all these areas [where the mutation has been detected] it is imperative that people must stay at home and only leave home where it is absolutely essential,” Mr Hancock said.

The UK has now vaccinated 9.2 million people, about 14 per cent of its population.

There has been 3,863,755 cases in the UK since the pandemic began while there has been 108,225 deaths.

While daily infections have dropped during the third wave’s lockdown, 24-hour case totals remain above 20,000.

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