Known as the Russian variant, health authorities are still working through the details of the strain to determine how contagious it might be.

What do we know about the Russian strain?

Not a lot.

Except that it has been circulating in the UK, Thailand and Switzerland from about early December.

The official name for the variant is B.1.1.317.

Professor of Infectious Diseases at the ANU Medical School, Peter Collignon, said it was important not to overreact to new strains of the virus appearing.

“This is like a lot of other variants we hear about, the South African variant, there’s a Brazilian variant, there’s now a Californian variant, there’s a New York variant,” Professor Collignon told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“Some of them do spread more, but there seems to be a great overreaction to these strains.

“They spread the same way, they spread mainly by droplets, which means larger particles that infect people when they’re close together, so all the things we’ve done to decrease the risk before should work against these strains.”

How do variants of coronavirus occur?

Professor Collignon said it was basically the same virus with a different blueprint.

“There’s a few hundred of them [variants] already,” he said.

“Any bacteria or virus changes in time …. this occurs naturally.

“It may give it some ability to survive or spread more readily.”

Professor Kirsten Spann said mutations of the virus would continue to form in the years to come, similar to influenza.

“We should be prepared that this is going to happen all the time, and it’s not necessarily a cause for alarm.

“But then again there needs to be that constant surveillance of the SASRS-CoV-2 virus genome globally because this will keep happening.

“We’ve already seen the UK strain the South African strain, it will keep happening so we need to be diligent in identifying them, but understanding the disease impact and transmissibility is going to be difficult.”

Will the vaccine still work on the Russian variant?

Not enough is known about the Russian variant at this stage to be sure.

“So far all the evidence is they [vaccines] do [work] but we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

“Until we find variants that don’t respond to the vaccines, that’ll be a problem.”

Professor Gerry Fitzgerald was cautiously optimistic the vaccine would be effective against the Russian variant, with early research suggesting it would still neutralise the disease caused by the UK and South African strains.

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