The World Health Organisation (WHO) has addressed claims about an alleged new ‘Nepal Variant’ of Covid-19.
It comes after reports in the national press that a new variant of the virus had evolved from the Indian variant (Delta) and been found in 20 Brits.
Taking to Twitter, the WHO Nepal account wrote this morning: “WHO is not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal.
"The three confirmed variants in circulation are: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Delta (B.1.617.2) and Kappa (B.1.617.1). The predominant variant currently in circulation in Nepal is Delta (B.1.617.2).”
The tweet followed a story on the front page the Daily Mail today, with the headline: “‘Nepal Variant’ a threat to our holidays”. In it, the newspaper claims this new variant will have an impact on travel across Europe.
Public Health England has since released a statement on the subject, confirming links between Nepal and the Indian variant (Delta) with an additional mutation. It has not been declared a new variant.
Dr Mike Gent, Covid incident director, said: “We are aware of reports linking Nepal to Delta (VOC-21APR-02) with the additional mutation K417N.
"This variant is present in multiple countries including a small number of cases in the UK, detected through rapid testing and whole genome sequencing. We are investigating K417N to better understand its significance.
"The UK will use its excellent genomics, epidemiology and virology capacity to monitor the virus as it naturally evolves and recommend appropriate public health measures to tackle it.”
What is a Covid variant and should we be worried?
Viruses normally create variants as they make copies of themselves. When a copy is not completely the same, a new strain is created.
Covid-19 is circulating widely across the global population, making it more likely to create new mutations of the original virus.
Regarding the so-called Nepal variant, a member of the Government’s SAGE committee told the Daily Mail: “There are thousands of variants. This is a virus that is changing all the time.”
According to the WHO, most new variants make little to no difference to the virus’ spread. But some can affect the virus’ ability to transmit between people.
The ‘Indian variant’ – which has now been renamed the April 02 variant – is also known as Delta (B.1.617.2).
This variant has developed to spread more rapidly through the population, which is why UK leaders are being more cautious with the easing of lockdown.
Nicola Sturgeon said this week: “This variant is spreading faster than previous variants of the virus, and we now believe it accounts for well over half of our daily cases.”
It is believed this variant will soon become the dominant coronavirus strain in Scotland.
The First Minister said: “Many public health experts are warning that the UK could now be at the start of a third wave of the virus.”
How will a new strain affect the vaccine?
Data is still being gathered on whether the vaccine will be effective against the new variant.
The vaccines which are currently in use are expected to provide some protection against new strains of Covid-19.
And, the WHO says, in the event that any of the vaccines prove to be less effective against one or more variants, it will be possible to change the composition of the vaccines to protect against these variants.
Ms Sturgeon said at her Covid restrictions update this week: “We now have a significant advantage that we didn’t have in the first or second wave. We are increasingly confident that the vaccines are effective.
"And we now have evidence that the link between cases and serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths appears to be weakening.”