The WHO says the new Covid strain in the UK looks more contagious

Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan of the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 12, 2020 in Geneva.

FABRICE COFFRINI | AFP through Getty Images

World Health Organization officials said Monday that the coronavirus was moving “at a much slower pace” than the seasonal flu, although British officials announced this weekend that a new mutation in the virus would allow it to spread more easily.

Seasonal flu moves so often that scientists need to regularly develop new vaccines to inoculate the population against the virus every year. British officials have told the WHO that Covid-19 vaccines appear to be just as effective against the new strain, but more research is needed. While all viruses move naturally, not every mutation makes a virus more contagious or more virulent.

“SARS-CoV-2 is moving at a much slower pace than the flu,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a news briefing. “And so far, even though we have seen a number of changes and a number of mutations, none have had a significant impact on the susceptibility of the virus to any of the therapies currently in use, drugs or vaccines under development, and it is hoped that this will continue to be the case “.

WHO officials reiterated that UK officials said the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergency Program, said it was unclear whether the increase in the spread in the UK was due to mutation or human behavior.

“We’ve seen an estimate of a small increase in breeding numbers by the UK,” he said, meaning the virus is spreading faster, which could mean it’s more contagious or spreading more easily in the months of May. cold. It could also mean that people are becoming cowards about complying with public health protocols. “It remains to be seen how much is due to the genetic change specific to the new variant. I suspect there are some.”

Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s disease and zoonosis unit, said British officials estimated that the mutation had caused the virus to increase its reproductive rate from 1.1 to 1.5. This means that it is estimated that each person infected with the variant will infect another 1.5 people, compared to 1.1 when infected with the original variant.

She added that officials are investigating three elements of the new variant. She said scientists are looking to see if it spreads more easily, if it causes more or less severe diseases, and how the antibody reacts to an infection. Van Kerkhove and others pointed out that there does not appear to be any impact on the effectiveness of Covid vaccines on the new variant.