What is the Nepal Covid variant and is it more contagious?

A NEW variant from Nepal has disrupted Brits holiday plans to Portugal.

But even more concerning is that the mutation could be both more easily spread and able to dodge vaccines.

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Scientists are racing to understand more about this strain, which has only been seen in a tiny number of infected people, including in the UK.

But due to the lack of screening in Nepal, which borders India, it is not clear just how prevalent the variant really is.

The Nepalese variant has a number of mutations that combine existing strains.

Here is everything we know about the variant so far.

What is the “Nepal variant”?

The Nepal variant appears to be an evolved variation of the Indian variant – named Delta.

It is so new it has not yet been given a name or been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Earlier today, WHO Nepal said it had not been aware of a new variant from the country.

Does it spread faster and will vaccines work against it?

The variant linked to Nepal appears to have the same mutations as the Delta variant, suggesting it would behave in the same way.

The Delta variant is fast-spreading – up to 50 per cent more than the Alpha/Kent variant – and can evade some vaccine protection.

But the Nepal variant has the addition of another mutation called K417N.

That’s according to Dr Jeff Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, which tracks variants in the UK.

He said: “This mutation is present in B.1.351/Beta [which originated in South Africa], and is believed to be part of why that variant is less well neutralised by vaccines.

“Because of this possibility, and because Delta appears more transmissible than Beta, scientists are monitoring it carefully.”

How many cases are there?

Dr Barret said 91 Covid cases have been shown to be caused by the Delta variant with the K417N mutation – suggesting it is the Nepal variant.

He said: “This Delta+K417N has been seen in numerous countries, including the UK, Portugal, the USA, and India. 

“It has also been observed once in Nepal (which does very little sequencing), and 14 times in Japan, of which 13 are samples from airport quarantine from travellers from Nepal.”

Nepal is still in the grips of a second Covid wave, which peaked in mid-May.

What are the symptoms?

There is no indication the variant linked to Nepal has any new symptoms.

The key symptoms to look out for with Covid infection are loss of taste and smell, a new continuous cough and a high temperature.

What’s being done to stop it?

There are no current plans to halt the Nepal variant specifically in the UK – where Dr Barret said it had been detected.

But Brits are now going to find it harder to travel to Portugal to avoid more cases.

The holiday hotspot will be removed from the green list to the amber list from 4am on Tuesday, meaning those returning will have to self isolate at home for 10 days.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps raised concerns of the new variant in an interview today.

He said: “I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end we’ve seen two things really which caused concern.

“One is the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected and we just don’t know the potential for that to be vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”

The Government has previously said assessments of travel lists are based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

Meanwhile, football fans returning from the Champions League final in Portugal have been told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app.

Multiple flights reported passengers testing positive for coronavirus, which has led to others having to quaratine.

Should we be worried?

New variants are constantly arising and will continue to do so.

They become a threat when they contain mutations that could significantly weaken vaccines, or are so transmisslbe that usual measures don’t work to contain it.

At this stage, it is not clear how dangerous the Nepal variant is, but it is clear it has features deemed concerning in the past.

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