The Coronavirus Is Mutating. What Does That Mean for Us?

Officials in Britain and South Africa claim new variants are more easily transmitted. There’s a lot more to the story, scientists say.

Just as vaccines begin to offer hope for a path out of the pandemic, officials in Britain this past weekend sounded an urgent alarm about what they called a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus circulating in England.

Citing the rapid spread of the virus through London and surrounding areas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the country’s most stringent lockdown since March. “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” he said.

Train stations in London filled with crowds of people scrambling to leave the city as the restrictions went into effect. On Sunday, European countries began closing their borders to travelers from the United Kingdom, hoping to shut out the new iteration of the pathogen.

In South Africa, a similar version of the virus has emerged, sharing one of the mutations seen in the British variant, according to scientists who detected it. That virus has been found in up to 90 percent of the samples whose genetic sequences have been analyzed in South Africa since mid-November. [ … ]

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