Salt Lake City, Utah (ABC4 News) – A new mutation, or variance, of the original COVID-19 virus, is causing massive shutdowns in the United Kingdom — as governments around the world consider possible travel bans to the country.

The mutation accounts for roughly 60 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.K. — a number that doubled in recent weeks — and University of Utah human genetics professor Nels Elde says the mutation also appears more contagious.

But, he says, this mutation should not be a reason for Utahns to panic.

“There’s no evidence that you’re more sick,” said Elde.

“There’s no evidence that it will avoid, for example, the new vaccines that are being deployed,” he added.

Viruses mutate, he says — that’s what they do. Officials at the Utah Dept. of Health are monitoring the data in real-time.

“I think it is important for people to know that so far there have been about 4,000 variants of the COVID-19 virus identified since the outbreak, so the concerning or the interesting thing about this one out of England is that it seems to be responsible for a good majority of the new cases that they’re identifying over there. And also seems to be spreading a lot quicker,” said Tom Hudachko, a spokesperson for Utah Dept. of Health.

“The good news is that there’s no reason to believe at this point that the vaccines that have been developed will be any less effective against this particular variance,” added Hudachko.

Elde says the new variant is a combination of 17 small changes from the original virus. There’s still a lot we don’t know, he says.

But his concern is the original virus — our existing pandemic — and its rapid spread in Utah. Elde says the mutation needs to be tracked and studied, but its existence shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

“It wouldn’t be surprising at all, both for new variants to emerge here and perhaps spread locally. And from overseas, and to spread over time as well,” said Else.

“This is all about human behavior, right? And what do we do as humans? We move around. And interact with each other. It’s very natural — just works in our disfavor at the moment,” added Elde.

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