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Coronavirus variants explained: ask the experts in a free online discussion

Two healthworkers wheeling a coronavirus patient on a gurney.
A coronavirus patient arrives at the Royal London Hospital in early January. Yui Mok/PA Wire

Late last year, when a new variant of coronavirus was linked to a rise in cases in south-east England, many countries rushed to close their borders with the UK. Since then, several other “variants of concern” have cropped up in South Africa, Brazil and the US.

A study that is still undergoing peer review suggests that the UK variant (called B117) is 50%-74% more transmissible. A more transmissible virus is one that will kill more people – even if it doesn’t cause more severe disease – so the race to vaccinate as many people as possible, as soon as possible, is on.

The South Africa and Brazil variants are particularly concerning because of a mutation they both share called E484K, which may make it harder for antibodies to neutralise the virus.

Nothing is certain at the moment, but studies are underway to find out exactly what these new variants mean for vaccine effectiveness, ability to spread and disease severity. We should have some answers in the next few weeks.

The Conversation is bringing together three experts in a free online discussion to discuss what we know so far about the new variants and answer your questions.

Banner promoting a webinar on the new coronavirus variants taking place on January 27 at 12.30pm GMT.

The Conversation’s health editor, Clint Witchalls, will chair the webinar at 12.30pm GMT on January 27 in discussion with:

  • Sharon Peacock, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology, University of Cambridge
  • Louis du Plessis, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Oxford
  • Anne Moore, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, University College Cork

The webinar will be free to watch directly via these links on Facebook, YouTube and on Twitter.

If you’d like to submit a question before the event, please email uk-webinars@theconversation.com

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