New Covid variant: How worried should we be?

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The sudden emergence of a new variant – expected to be called nu by the WHO – has brought back the harrowing flashbacks of last winter, when the world was first informed of a new, more transmissible form of the virus.

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Now, likewise, there are many questions that we have little to answer: to what extent will the variant reduce the potency of the vaccines? How contagious is it? Is there a bigger disease than this? And what does all this mean for the trajectory of the pandemic?

Scientists are already working into these issues and assessing the genetic makeup of the diversity – although health officials believe it is likely to take up to eight weeks until we can see what is happening. have, and are not able to develop a clear picture of what. lies ahead.


Nevertheless, being in this position is an incredible feat of modern science given that ‘Nu’, or B. as it is currently known, exploded onto the scene within days.

This is one of the many reasons why alarm bells have been rung. In South Africa – once again in the crosshairs after its experience with the beta – cases have increased throughout November, with most of these infections reported from Gauteng province.

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Scientists believe that 90 percent of the new cases in the region may be due to B.1.1529, and fear that it is “rapidly taking over” from the delta, suggesting that it may be more vulnerable to its viral cousins. Is ‘fitter’ than brother. , If this proves to be the case, it will take a while for the variant to dominate the global stage.

It is not only the rapid assimilation of the variant that has given rise to the concern, but it is also the genetic profile. Scientists agree that B. is “unprecedented” and “very unusual”, due to its widespread mutations, most of which are concentrated in the spike protein – the key with which the virus enters our body’s cells. Is .

It has been theorized that the variant emerged from an immunocompromised individual who was unable to clear the virus from his system, causing it to slowly mutate over time and eventually emerge from its evolutionary gym before one mutation after another. can receive.

These mutations, which read like alphabetical soup, “have already been associated with increased transmission and immune evasion,” says Professor Sharon Peacock, one of the UK experts on our response to B.1.1. is leading. “Many mutations are not familiar to us.”

How these mutations change the nature of diversity and interact with each other is yet to be determined. Some believe they will reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and the protection they provide – Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Friday was a possibility – while others insist the Covid virus is our There is a long way to go before we can overcome the high walls of immunosuppression. Defense.

Regardless of what answers scientists bring back from their labs, it’s reassuring to see such a rapid response to the variant, which the people at Whitehall consider “the worst we’ve ever seen.” The UK has gone straight ahead, placing several countries in southern Africa on the ‘red’ travel list.

A lesson has been learned from the government’s unforgivable decision to allow the import of thousands of cases before closing the border with Delta and India. As a result, a huge – invincible wave – was planted in a short period of time.

Even if the travel restrictions won’t eventually stop B. – assuming it eventually moves on a global scale – it will help us to prepare our response, refocus our vaccination and booster efforts, and plan accordingly. gives time. Hope we get through the chilly months ahead.

Dr. Steve Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, summed it up nicely: “Act now. If there’s a storm in the cup, stand up.” Nothing is lost by running too hard or too fast.

The WHO has advocated the benefits of the precautionary principle since day one of the pandemic – assume the worst, prepare accordingly – and now is our window of opportunity to implement it.

If B.1.1.529 fails, as many have before it, the world will undoubtedly breathe a collective sigh of relief. Another bullet missed. But it won’t take us long to find ourselves back in the same dance.

The warnings have been loud and clear from the start: Don’t underestimate this virus. After months of relative silence on the genetic frontline – with many assuming that Covid has reached its evolutionary peak – a new enemy has emerged, which may well displace Delta. How long before another viral contender emerges?

These variants are the most serious threat to the global vaccination program, and in a world of gross vaccine disparity, sky-high infection rates and partially protected populations, we are actively supporting the growth of this virus – at the expense of our own for.

The WHO recently warned that some degree of complacency is beginning to come. Many believe that ‘the battle is over.’ ‘we won.’ This incontinence takes many forms – from not bothering to wear masks to failing to donate thousands of additional vaccine doses to those in need – but it can be undone. Whatever comes out of b., hopefully this serves as a much-needed reminder that we are all in this together.


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