Getting to grips with . . .

What we know about the South Africa-style Covid strain found in Bristol

Experts move to play down fears over new variant evading existing vaccines

A new strain of Covid-19 discovered in Bristol has been classed as a “variant of concern” by the government’s virus threat advisory group.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group said the “mutation of the so-called Kent strain may be highly transmissible - and could also possibly interfere with the vaccine”, Sky News reports.

There have been 14 cases of the new variant in Bristol, four in Manchester and three other dispersed cases, while a separate mutation first reported in Liverpool has been classed as a “variant under investigation”.

The Bristol strain “changes the shape of the virus’ spike protein”, the broadcaster adds, “making it harder for the immune system to recognise and neutralise the virus, even if it has been shown what to do by the vaccine”.

Stressing that the data on the new variant is “very sketchy”, Sky News technology correspondent Rowland Manthorpe said it may be able to “escape immunity to some extent” meaning that “it’s possible it could evade the vaccine”.

Public Health England (PHE) says it has a “high degree of confidence that the vaccines will work against variants”, including strains discovered in both Bristol and Liverpool, ITV reports.

Oxford University vaccine lead researcher Professor Sarah Gilbert said that the current vaccines “have a reduction in efficacy against some of the variant viruses”. 

“What that is looking like is that we may not be reducing the total number of cases but there’s still protection in that case against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease,” she added.

Boris Johnson has also sought to calm nerves about the emergence of new variants, saying he is “very confident in all the vaccines that we’re using” because they all protect against severe illness and death.

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