There are now two known new variants of the coronavirus that are touring the world – and perhaps a third.
These findings have further complicated international travel, as countries around the world impose stricter Covid-19 restrictions on travel from places with documented cases of new variants.
The first new variant of the new coronavirus is strain B117, first discovered in the United Kingdom in November. It is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than the virus circulating in the United States. The British strain has been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Australia.
And today, Singapore confirmed its first case with the UK version, Reuters reported. The passenger came to Singapore from Great Britain on December 6, after arriving in quarantine and on December 8 on a positive test.
Eleven additional passengers who were already in quarantine in Singapore also returned preliminary positive results for the coronavirus strain in the UK. All of these cases were placed in 14-day quarantine in dedicated facilities or isolated upon arrival, and their close contacts were previously quarantined.
The new coronavirus “mutates regularly, acquiring approximately one new mutation in its genome every two weeks,” the CDC said in a statement, but most mutations are insignificant. For example, in March, two researchers at a Chinese university identified two separate strains of the Covid-19 virus.
Researchers are still trying to determine the significance of the new UK version. But the CDC noted that, based on early data, “it is predicted that this variant of the strain will be more rapidly transmitted than other circulating strains.”
A second, and potentially even more contagious, new variant of the new coronavirus was first identified in South Africa and has now appeared in the United Kingdom, the British government confirmed on Wednesday.
British Health Minister Matt Hancock told reporters on Wednesday that the South African variant was “very worrying because it is still more portable and seems to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the UK.”
Today, the highest African official in public health said that a third new variant of coronavirus seems to have appeared in Nigeria, as reported by the Associated Press. “It is a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.
No new version of the coronavirus has been identified in the United States, however, the CDC has warned that this may be pointless. Viruses have been sequenced from only about 51,000 of the 17 million U.S. cases – or less than one-third of one percent.
“Given the small proportion of sequenced U.S. infections, the variant could already be in the United States without being detected,” the CDC said.
Currently, more than 40 countries, including Canada, have suspended travel with the United Kingdom. That list does not include the United States, but the CDC has long-standing Level 4 health counseling, which marks a very high level of Covid-19 and recommends that travelers “should avoid all travel to the United Kingdom.”