HONOLULU (KHON2) — A new genetic mutation of COVID-19 has spread through the United Kingdom. The newest strain, which began spreading across the UK in September, is up to 70 percent more contagious than other variants, but fortunately hasn’t proven to be more deadly.

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As Japan closes its borders to foreign nationals, Hawaii has limited options to keep the variant out of its borders.

“I really don’t think there’s a chance this is going to be kept out of the world,” COVID-19 testing expert Dr. Scott Miscovich said.

The United States is requiring a pre-travel negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure for passengers flying from the United Kingdom starting Monday.

Still, Dr. Miscovich thinks it’s likely the variant has already made its way to the US with travel to places like New York and Los Angeles.

“So, is it in Hawaii right now? Possibly,” Miscovich said. “Are we going to stop it? The only way we’re going to stop it is (to) continue with a vigilance that we’re doing with the testing and the pre-testing and the follow-up testing once people arrive. So, hopefully we’re not going to let it spread to be the only variant we have.”

Even if this variant isn’t more deadly, the contagious nature of the virus could result in more spread, and therefore more deaths.

“If we look at the fact that this gets into our vulnerable population which is our elderly or people with immuno-compromised or chronic illness, of course there can be more deaths. So, that is what we’re worried about. It is definitely more contagious,” Dr. Miscovich explained.

Fortunately, it doesn’t look to impact how effective the vaccine rollout is in the islands.

“The good news is almost all indications are right now, (that) it does not change the effectiveness of the vaccine. The vaccines, everyone should understand, are mostly identifying the proteins in those spikes, because the general proteins, it’s not just a little one single code or two codes or eight codes. So, the vaccine looks like it still will be effective,” Dr. Miscovich said.

Looking at the big picture, Dr. Miscovich says the variant could impact how many people need to be vaccinated or get the virus to achieve herd immunity.

“The higher the infectivity is of that virus with this new variant, it often will push the rate up of how many people need to have immunity before you can start seeing the effect on spread,” he said.

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