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What makes new variants of SARS-CoV-2 concerning is not where they come from, but the mutations they contain

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 22 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n504

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  1. Alan McNally, professor in microbial genomics
  1. University of Birmingham, UK
  1. A.McNally.1{at}

What do the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations mean, and how should we track them?

In the past three months global attention has turned to the discovery and health risks of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A new covid variant, B1525, has very recently been identified in the UK. In December, the discovery of what has become popularly known as the Kent variant, or B.1.1.7, saw the virus sweep across the UK and dominating infections because of an increase in transmissibility. This was followed by the South African variant B.1.351 which contains a mutation now being reported to reduce the efficacy of the ChAdOx vaccine to the extent that South Africa is removing it from itsvaccination programme. The Brazil variant P.1 is also spreading to multiple countries with worries about its propensity for causing reinfections, given its emergence in a place that may have already hit herd immunity in the first wave.

The world now seems obsessed with SARS-CoV-2 variants and designating them a place of origin. This is an unfortunate stigma that should be avoided, given that where a virus is first …

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