Many countries all around the world suspended flights from and to the UK after the British authorities announced the finding of a fast-spreading strain of Coronavirus, American researchers think that the variant likely arrived in the US in mid-November and many people could already be infected.
Michael Worobey, head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona said: "if I had to guess, I would say it's probably in hundreds of people by now". According to the researcher, it is possible that the mutated virus has arrived in the US "multiple times in multiple places". Another expert, Trevor Bedford, associate professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said, "Imagine the amount of infected travelers leaving London -- that's been increasing exponentially."
The British scientists traced the new Coronavirus strain's earliest known appearance back to September this year in London's Kent. Scientists have started examining the genetic sequence of the Coronavirus in the US to see if any similarity can be found with the UK virus strain, VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01. Even though the researchers have not found any link, they think that is probably because the US surveillance system is not catching them.
'It Is Here'
According to US' top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "You really need to assume that it's here already, and certainly is not the dominant strain, but I would not be surprised at all if it is already here." Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health said this week that the new strain could be in the US and maybe it is still undetected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the new Coronavirus variant, found in the UK, has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the US. The federal agency also said that only about 51,000 out of 17 million US cases it has tallied have been sequenced — less than half a percent. It also noted that given the small fraction of the cases in the US that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the country "without having been detected".
According to healthcare experts, research so far showed that the changes do appear to make the virus more transmissible, but it doesn't mean that the mutated virus causes more severe disease. The experts also said that at this point, it looks like the COVID-19 vaccine will still work against the UK variant.
Public Health England (PHE) announced that over 1,100 cases with the new strain have been identified till December 13, "predominantly in the South and East of England" and it is currently working with partners "to investigate and plans to share its findings over the next 2 weeks".