The coronavirus variant currently spreading in Sri Lanka has been found to be a UK B.1.1.7 variant of the virus. Director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the Sri Jayewardenepura University, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara said mutations specific to the UK variant B.1.1.7 lineage, had been detected in several areas of the country. He said the virus strain has been detected from samples obtained from Colombo, Boralesgamuwa and Kurunegala. Dr. Jeewandara further said that this confirms that the B.1.1.7 lineage of COVID-19 is the new strain currently circulating in Sri Lanka. He said this particular strain of the coronavirus has been identified as the cause for the current massive outbreak in the country.
Prof. Malavige said that currently, over 95% of the samples from Colombo, Kurunegala and Kalutara give an ‘S drop’, suggesting that these infections are due to this variant [B.1.1.7]. This variant appears to have completely displaced Sri Lanka’s own virus (B.1.411) within a very short period of time (10 days), showing that it is highly transmissible compared to the previous strain.
“There is a strong possibility that a ‘new variant of concern’ of the coronavirus which is highly transmissible and also causing severe disease is currently circulating in Sri Lanka,” said Prof. Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
This variant seems to have displaced the variants of Sri Lankan lineage which have been circulating so far, says Prof. Malavige going onto explain that certain changes are detected in some RT-PCR assays, when there is a variant.
“One of these changes is a so-called ‘S drop’ that occurs due to mutations that are seen in certain variants such as the UK variant (B.1.1.7). However, sequencing or targeted detection of these mutations that occur in these variants is essential to confirm which variant it is. The results of sequencing are expected next week,” she said.
She cautioned that a further COVID-19 blow will come in about 10-14 days, when the number of infected due to disregarding health precautions during avurudu, will surface.