Premier Dan Andrews denies Victorian mutant coronavirus strain was precursor to UK variant
A fiery Dan Andrews has responded to suggestions a mutant strain of COVID was circulating during Victoria’s second wave.
The Premier emphatically denied an article published by The Age newspaper that reported scientists believed a mutant strain of the virus, which was a precursor to the variant now causing havoc in the UK, had escaped hotel quarantine in Victoria in June.
The report quoted Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity professor Damian Purcell, who said the strain had infected 37 people in Victoria before being brought under control by the state’s second lockdown.
He told the newspaper that scientists spent several months studying the variant and found that it bound more tightly to human cells, which made it harder to contain that the initial COVID-19 strain.
Professor Purcell said the Victorian strain, known as N501Y, contained several of the mutations seen in the British variant B.1.1.7, including changes to the shape of the spike protein.
But a fiery Mr Andrews was quick to slap down suggestions it was a precursor after the report was published on Friday morning.
“Any reporting about the UK variant not being new to Victoria is simply wrong,” the Premier said.
“Arguably, it didn’t actually exist months ago, it’s a new strain, and the nature of a new strain is that it is new, and to report otherwise is simply wrong.
“The strain we are talking about at the moment, that is so much more infectious, is not here, it has not been here, and it is our aim to keep it out.”
Mr Andrews said Victoria had virus come from the UK back in June, but it was not the same variant that was now presenting as much more infectious.
“Just to be clear, we’ve had UK virus, we’ve had virus from all over the world, but it’s not the same as the variant, the one that’s got all of us very worried and concerned … that’s not something that’s been a feature of our virus as presented, that’s new,” he said.
“Everything is a precursor to the current strain, it’s the same virus. But UK virus, four, five, six months ago wasn’t 50 per cent more infectious.”
Victoria recorded zero new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Friday and one new infection in a returned overseas traveller in hotel quarantine, with the number of active cases reaching 39.