A highly infectious mutant strain of coronavirus, discovered in the UK, has already spread across the globe.
The variant is said to be 70% more contagious than previous versions of Covid-19, and has led to a number of countries announcing bans on flights from Britain.
But already the variant has spread to several destinations in Europe, as well as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Canada.
India and Pakistan are the latest to detect the new strain, with the former confirming six new cases among people returning from the UK.
Fears over the new strain led to Boris Johnson cancelling Christmas bubble plans for millions of people.
The Prime Minister is now under pressure to delay the reopening of schools in January, as it is thought this new variant spreads more rapidly among children.
It is not known exactly from where this mutant variant originates, but the Government has said it ’emerged in September and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November’.
The first specimen was taken on September 20, weeks after a very similar mutation was thought to be already spreading in Italy.
President of the Italian Society of Virology Arnaldo Caruso said a variant in the Mediterranean country could have been a forerunner of Britain’s more infectious strain.
While the UK based variant, known as VUI-202012/01 is significantly more contagious, there is no evidence to suggest it is more deadly or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
A similar strain has also been found in South Africa, which was detected in Britain last week, prompting immediate travel restrictions.
It is feared this version is even more contagious than the other version circulating in the UK and also spreads more quickly among young people.
Australia has become the latest country to report the South African variant after a woman who arrived from overseas in Queensland tested positive on December 22 and put into quarantine.
This version does not appear to have spread to as many places as the UK variant, and is not thought to affect the ability of vaccines.
Less is known about a new strain that emerged in Nigeria last week, although medics do not currently believe it is more infectious.
The Africa and Nigerian Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they need more time to study the variant.
While they don’t expect the strain to affect the rollout of vaccines, they warned a continuously evolving virus could make the pandemic harder to get under control.
Pharmaceutical research expert at the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development Olobayo Kunle told Voanews: ‘Vaccines are designed based on a number of assumptions.
‘They’re built around a known range of characteristics. If these characteristics keep changing, eventually we may get to a point where it falls out of the range for which that vaccine was developed.’
However variants have emerged routinely, with around 4,000 logged to date, however concerns about the recent additions are over how quickly they migh spread.
The World Health Organisation has called on countries to step up their genomic sequencing efforts to make sure further mutations are detected early next year.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: ‘There will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead – for example new variants of Covid-19.’
He added that ‘only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope’.
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