, Beta variant: what we know about symptoms, vaccine protection and cases in the UK and France, The Nzuchi Times

Beta variant: what we know about symptoms, vaccine protection and cases in the UK and France

, Beta variant: what we know about symptoms, vaccine protection and cases in the UK and France, The Nzuchi Times

The UK’s decision to require travellers arriving from France to quarantine for 10 days has prompted some head scratching. While there is no doubt cases are soaring across the Channel – from an average of around 7,000 cases a day last week to 18,000 this week – the UK blamed the increased restrictions on the rise of the beta variant.

However, according to Gisaid, a scientific database that is tracking variants globally, France has reported just 79 cases of beta in the past four weeks. And many of these have been reported from the overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte – Indian Ocean islands that are thousands of miles from mainland France.

What is the beta variant?

The variant, also known as B.1.351, was formerly known as the South African variant, where it was first detected last year. It contains several mutations that help it bind more easily to human cells. It also contains the E484K mutation, which appears to help the virus partially evade antibodies – raising concerns about vaccines.

How many beta variant cases have there been in the UK?

The variant has been labelled a variant of concern by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Public Health England. According to PHE 1,073 cases of beta had been detected in the UK as of July 16 – the most recent point when data was available – but there had been no cases in the previous seven days.

Beta makes up a tiny fraction of cases in the UK compared to other variants. Some 253,000 cases of the delta variant, which wreaked havoc in India earlier this year, have been detected in the UK, compared to 276,000 cases of alpha. This variant was first detected in Kent and drove the UK’s Covid wave in January and February.

Where else has the beta variant been found?

According to the latest update from the WHO beta has been found in 130 countries – seven new countries have reported cases in the last week. 

According to Gisaid, some 483 cases have been detected in Spain, 124 in Portugal, 31 in Italy and 20 in Greece. However, these figures are likely to be underestimates. 

The fact Spain has reported more cases of beta has prompted concerns the country could be added to the “amber plus” list. According to Gisaid 6.9 per cent of the Covid cases in Spain in the past month were the beta variant.

Initially, beta spread widely through South Africa, but it is now no longer so dominant. In the last four weeks, beta has accounted for just 4.1 per cent of virus samples sequenced in South Africa, according to Gisaid.

Do the vaccines work against beta?

South Africa stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small study in February showed that it offered only limited protection against mild disease caused by the beta variant.

, Beta variant: what we know about symptoms, vaccine protection and cases in the UK and France, The Nzuchi Times

The study of just over 2,000 people by researchers at the University of Witwatersrand and University of Oxford showed that the jab was only 22 per cent effective at preventing mild to moderate disease. 

However, it did not look at whether the vaccine prevents severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths – the “primary job” of a vaccine, as the WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan said.

Studies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine showed that they both were effective against the beta variant. A study of real-world data from Qatar, where beta was once widespread, showed that it was 72 to 75 per cent effective at preventing infection.

Both jabs were found to be more than 95 per cent effective at preventing severe disease and death.

What are the beta symptoms?

There is no indication that symptoms of the beta variant are any different to other Covid variants. But as the number of cases have been small compared to other variants there have been no widespread studies.

The variant is believed to be more transmissible than the original Wuhan virus but it is not thought to lead to more severe disease.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at Nottingham University, described the beta variant as a “bit of a lightweight” – and most experts agree it has been outpaced by the more dominant delta strain. 

What is the UK doing about the beta variant?

When it was first identified in the UK, the government recommended surge testing in areas where it had been found to help stop the spread. 

UK scientists are tracking variants, including beta, to learn more and are providing genomic sequencing help to other countries so that they can do the same.

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