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      What we know about the new SARS strain that’s shutting down the UK

      John Timmer · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 21 December, 2020 - 20:50

    Cartoon representation of coronaviruses.

    Enlarge (credit: CDC.gov )

    A variant of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is now dominating headlines and inspiring precautionary travel bans worldwide. But scientists are still trying to get a grip on what the variant can actually do differently and what it might mean for the nearly year-old pandemic.

    Researchers in the United Kingdom—where the variant was identified and is now rapidly circulating—suggested it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than other SARS-CoV-2 strains, stoking fear of surges-upon-surges of disease on the eve of year-end holidays. But other researchers are now rapidly working to collect data on the variant's interactions with human cells and immune responses to see if those interactions differ from those seen by other SARS-CoV-2 strains.

    What we know

    While much remains to be known about the variant, dubbed B.1.1.7, there are some reassuring aspects. For one thing, it's normal for viruses to accumulate the small genetic changes, such as those that created the new UK variant (more on that below). Many other variants have been identified throughout the pandemic, and none has spawned any nightmare scenarios.

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