“The virus has genetically moved a bit, but it has not changed in terms of its propensity and its ability to cause disease and to cause death.”
Those were the sombre words of the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance when he addressed the nation back in September to discuss the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases – and what needed to be done about it.
His words brought some comfort as we discovered the virus hadn’t genetically morphed into something far far worse, but also dismay, as we realised it hadn’t become less deadly over time, either.
We currently know that there are seven key strains – or “clades” – of the virus which are in circulation around the globe. These are: GR, G, GH, O, S, L, and V.
Covid-19 strains, briefly explained.
Earlier this summer, University of Bologna researchers looked at the genetic makeup of the virus to assess how it had spread – and mutated – during its journey across the continents.
They suggested the original version of the virus is the L strain, which appeared in Wuhan back in December. Its first mutation – the S strain – appeared at the beginning of 2020, according to the study, and since mid-January, there have been two predominant strains: V and G.
Worldwide, strain G appears to be the most widespread, with researchers identifying that it mutated into strains GR and GH at the end of February.
The O strain refers to ‘other’ strains of the virus which researchers are also keeping their eye on.
Why do we need to monitor mutations?
Scientists need to monitor how the virus is mutating to check for a few things.
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, tells HuffPost UK that, firstly, we need to monitor how any mutations of the virus might impact on the effectiveness of antiviral drugs, such as remdesivir, which are being trialled as treatments.
We also need to keep an eye out for any mutations that might impact on the...