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COVID Variant Spreads Again, Confirmed in Georgia

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Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 5, 2021, at 3:45 p.m. 

Jan. 4, 2021 -- A highly contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom last month has been found for the first time in the American South, as Georgia officials announced a confirmed case.

Georgia becomes the fifth U.S. state to detect the more-contagious variant, joining New York, Florida, California and Colorado.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 nations around the world have reported variant infections, a spread that has prompted more limits on international travel, The Washington Post reported.

In Georgia, the variant was discovered during analysis of a specimen a pharmacy sent to a commercial lab, the Department of Public Health said. The patient is an 18-year-old male with no travel history, and is isolating at home. The department says it is tracing the patients contacts.

The variant’s effects are being felt across the United Kingdom, where Scottish leaders announced a new stay-at-home order that lasts at least until the end of the month. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced a new lockdown in England that would last into February. While Johnson said the coming weeks would be the "hardest yet" of the pandemic, he expressed hope that with the new vaccines, this will mark "the last phase of the struggle," the BBC reported. 

Meanwhile, Vietnam reported Saturday that the variant had been found in a woman who returned from Britain. Vietnam was letting Vietnamese citizens stranded in the U.K. fly home, though the nation had banned other international travel.

Turkey said Friday it found 15 cases of the variant in travelers from Britain. After the variant cases were found, Turkey issued a temporary ban on flights from Britain, ThePost said.

Business Insider said cases of the variant have been found in most European nations as well as Japan, Canada, Lebanon, Singapore, India, Chile, China, Brazil, and South Korea.

Public Health England says the coronavirus variant has existed in the U.K. since September and circulated at very low levels until mid-November. It was first detected in southeast England.

So far, the new variant appears to be about 70% more transmissible than the old variant, but no more deadly, British health authorities say. But a faster-spreading virus will inevitably lead to more deaths.

The variant is named VUI-202012/01, for the first “variant under investigation” in December 2020, according to the BMJ journal. Also referred to as B117, it is defined by a set of 17 mutations, with the most significant mutation in the spike protein the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

The Washington Post: "U.K. variant continues to spread around the world as coronavirus pandemic enters 2021."

Business Insider: “At least 33 countries have reported cases of the new, possibly more infectious coronavirus variant from the UK.”

BMJ: “Covid-19: What have we learnt about the new variant in the UK?”

BBC.com: “Covid: Boris Johnson set to announce new England lockdown.”

Georgia Department of Public Health: “First Case of COVID-19 Variant Identified in Georgia”

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