Explained: What is B.1.1.7 Lineage? A new variant of SARS-CoV-2

A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 (B.1.1.7 Lineage) has raised another threat alarm after its increased transmission in parts of the UK. The government has imposed strict coronavirus lockdown restrictions in some parts of London, named as Tier4. People in Tier4 will not be able to gather outside their homes on Christmas, while others can gather only on Christmas eve. Concerns have grown since some nations like India have suspended all flights from and to the UK until December 31.

Though variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged earlier, scientists agree that this variant is 70% more transmissible and has increased the reproduction number 0.4.

What do we know about B.1.1.7 Lineage?

  • The first sample of the new UK variant was taken in Kent on September 20, 2020.
  • This variant carries 14 defining mutations. Seven of the 14 mutations are in the spike protein. Spike protein is the protein that mediates entry of the virus into human cells.
  • This variant has been largely found in the UK, but some similar cases have been discovered in Denmark and two cases in Australia. A case has also been reported in the Netherlands.
  • COVID-19 test results in the UK show that this variant has started to dominate over existing versions of the virus.

Is B.1.1.7 Lineage more dangerous?

As noted The Conversation with Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, there is no evidence (as of now) that depicts this variant is more severe than other variants in terms of mortality, or in seriousness of those affected with COVID-19. However, studies are underway to confirm the same.

Where did B.1.1.7 Lineage come from?

Scientists have not been able to identify the variant’s track. What they suggest is that the observed mutations are more supportive of extended period of adaptive evolution in UK.

Similar patterns of mutation have been observed in chronically infected patients with coronavirus with weak immune systems.

What does this mean for COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently, it is difficult to judge coronavirus vaccines credibility. We believe that the vaccines will be able to stimulate antibodies that respond to entire spike protein. However, we might reach a point where we might require to update the coronavirus vaccines, like we usually do for influenza vaccines.