The director of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme has claimed on Thursday that the Kent Covid-19 variant may become the most dominant strain in the world.
More than 50 countries have already spotted the mutant B.1.1.7 strain, which evolved to become more infectious than the original virus.
The Head of the Covid-19 Genomics UK (Cog-UK) Consortium, Professor Sharon Peacock said the variant ‘is going to sweep the world, in all probability’.
It is already the dominant strain across the UK but all the evidence suggests current vaccines work against it.
But there are fears the variant has started to mutate further to become more like the one that evolved in South Africa, which is better able to resist immunity developed by past infection or from the current vaccines.
Professor Peacock said her work sequencing variants could be needed for at least 10 years.
The Kent variant was first detected in in September 2020 and its rapid spread across the country spooked No10 into tougher action in December.
Analysis suggests it is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strain that was dominant in the UK. No10’s scientific advisers also fear the variant is slightly deadlier.
Professor Peacock said the variant’s transmissibility was likely to cause scientists difficulties for years to come.
She told the BBC’s Newscast podcast, “Once we get on top of it [Covid-19] or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it.
“But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.’
The network of public health bodies and laboratories Professor Peacock is in charge of currently analyses nearly 30,000 positive tests a day.
Up to 10 per cent of positive tests across the country are selected randomly to be sent on for genomic sequencing, which investigates the exact make-up of each virus.
Professor Peacock added that the Kent variant does appear to have mutated even further, in what has been described as a worrying development by scientists.
An extra mutation been found at least 21 times in different cases of people infected with the Kent variant.
It has raised fears it could become a permanent feature of the British strain.
Both the Kent and South African variants already share one mutation, named N501Y, which makes the virus spread faster.
But the cases of the Kent variant also have the E484K mutation, which is found in the South Africa strain.
Experts say it can help the virus partially evade immunity.
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