Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Occasions

We can help celebrate the holidays with our collection of ideas to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

The world watched curiously and with alarm as scientists in the UK described a newly identified variant of the coronavirus. It appears to be more contagious than more established variants. That’s what scientists have learned about it so far.

Is the British variant some kind of new supervirus?

No. It’s just one variation among many that arose when the coronavirus spread around the world. Mutations occur when a virus replicates, and this variant – known as B.1.1.7 – has acquired its own distinctive set of them.

Is it more contagious than other viruses?

It seems so. In preliminary work, researchers in the UK found that the virus was spreading rapidly in parts of southern England, displacing a crowded field of other variants that have been around for months.

However, an increasingly common line of viruses is not evidence that it is spreading faster than others. It could just spread further through luck. For example, a variant could start in the middle of a crowded city where broadcasting is easy and more copies of yourself can be made. However, the epidemiological evidence so far gathered from England seems to suggest that this variant is spreading very well.

Does it cause more serious illnesses?

There is no strong evidence for this, at least not yet. However, there is reason to take the opportunity seriously. In South Africa, another line of the coronavirus has received a certain mutation, which can also be found in B.1.1.7. This variant spreads quickly in the coastal areas of South Africa. In preliminary studies, doctors there found that people infected with this variant carry an increased viral load. In many viral diseases, this is associated with more severe symptoms.

Will the variant make the new vaccines ineffective?

No. Most experts doubt that this will have a major effect on vaccines, although it is not yet possible to rule out an effect.

That’s it for this briefing. Until next time.

– Melina

Many Thanks
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh took the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

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