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An area of Brentwood, Essex is the latest region to be subject to surge testing after a single case of the variant discovered in South Africa was detected, the UK government has said.
Routine and surge testing has confirmed 139 cases in England, 16 in Scotland and 12 in Wales, with a further 68 cases considered “genomically probable.”
Scientists are wary of the variant – known as B1351 or 501YV2 – as it could sabotage efforts to contain the epidemic with vaccines should it spread more widely. This latest case was found in the CM13 postcode in Brentwood.
Earlier this month, South Africa paused its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after the results from a small, still to be peer-reviewed trial in young people suggested the vaccine prevented only 10% of mild or moderate disease caused by the variant.
Separately, a laboratory study published in a prestigious medical journal last week suggests that the variant may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, although it is not clear if the shot will be effective against the mutation, the companies have said.
Moderna, another Covid-19 vaccine maker, said the actual efficacy of its vaccine against the South African variant was yet to be determined. Previously, the company had stated it believed the vaccine would work against the variant.
Makers of some still-to-be-authorised vaccines have also found that the variant have taken a toll on vaccine efficacy.
The Novavax vaccine, which employs similar technology to the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, demonstrated an efficacy of 89% in UK trials, which dipped to 60% in South Africa where 92% of infections were caused by the variant. Meanwhile, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine showed 72% efficacy in a US trial, but only 57% in South Africa. However, both still protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
Public health officials have stepped up testing in parts of the UK in a bid to halt the community spread of the variant and others that are causing concern because of the mutations they carry. The mutation, E484K, (nicknamed Eeek), has been seen in the variant discovered in South African and another variant detected first in Brazil. Scientists suspect the mutation helps the virus evade the immunity conferred by past infection or vaccination.
Meanwhile, the prime minister is gearing up for a keenly anticipated statement to the House of Commons on Monday, in which he is expected to take a cautious approach to lifting restrictions but confirm schools will reopen from 8 March and allow some family outdoor gathering before Easter.
On Saturday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that care home residents in England would be able to receive indoor visits from 8 March, including allowing the holding of hands.
As of Saturday, 17.3 million adults in the UK (about 1 in 3) had received their first dose of the vaccine, while nearly 605,000 people had received their second shot. Plans to offer the first dose to all adults over 50 has been brought forward two weeks to 15 April. On Sunday, Hancock also set a target of offering a vaccine to all adults by the end of July.
The official government death toll rose by 445 on Saturday, bringing the UK total to 120,365.
Source: The Guardian
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