New COVID-19 variant strain ‘raising the alarm bells’

Article content continued

“It’s definitely got my attention, and the attention of many of us,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Epidemiology and Public Health.

“First, because of the transmissibility and because it’s happening in London. It’s a wide-scale outbreak in a place where there’s a lot of activity, so to have it take over on that scale in southeast England is concerning.”

There is no evidence the illness caused by the new strain is any more severe, according to modelling data from the U.K., and Yaffe said all vaccines will be effective against the new variant.

Scientists describe a mutation in the spike protein that allows the virus to more efficiently latch on and attack a human cell.

“Like every organism in the world, things can evolve,” said Manuel. “What concerns me is the increased transmission, and numbers in the range of 40 to 70 per cent are really high, and what it implies is, if we’re already at the current (rate), and this new one crowded out and took over, we would need to have much more effective preventions, distancing and vaccinations to get that rate back down.

“And if we don’t get there, we’ll see the exponential rise that we’ve been fighting through all these different waves,” said Manuel. “And the concern in the U.K. is, they’ve seen this exponential growth already in the face of a lockdown.”

Manuel said researchers were discussing the possibility of using Ottawa’s leading-edge wastewater surveillance system to detect traces of the new variant in Ottawa’s “viral signal,” with daily readings of the city’s wastewater already being monitored by the CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa.