What we know so far — Analysis

Scientists have raised the alarm about the new B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant, first identified in Botswana, which has an “extremely high number” of mutations that may drive new waves of infection. How dangerous could it be?

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO), will gather international experts to talk about the variant that has spread quickly across the continent over the last fortnight. It is now in Asia and the Middle East. Although scientists continue to work overtime to discover the potential impact that this variant could have on the Covid-19 epidemic’s course, we do know some facts.

From where came it?

From samples collected on November 11, Botswana identified the first B.1.1.529 cases. Three days later, South Africa received its first confirmed case. 

Is it still there?

The strain is understood to have spread rapidly across southern Africa, and according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, it already accounts for 90% of cases in Gauteng province – the Highveld state home to major cities Pretoria and Johannesburg.

It is going where?

Genome sequencing has been performed in Israel and Hong Kong to identify the variant. Israel’s health officials said that they have confirmed one case of B.1.1.529 in Israel. The victim was a Malawian traveler. They are also monitoring two other cases. On Thursday, Hong Kong recorded its first confirmed case of this strain in an individual who arrived from South Africa. This individual infected another person in a quarantine hotel, where the transmission was blamed on a “Selfish” valve-style face mask.  

Is it possible to stop this?

Hopefully. Britain quickly dealt with the rapidly spreading virus and banned all South African, Botswana (Namibia), Botswana, Zimbabwe as well as Lesotho, Eswatini, and Namibian flights. The EU has said it will follow suit, while Israel has updated its ‘red list’ to prevent further cases from reaching the Levantine nation. 

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‘Super mutant’ Covid strain triggers emergency response

Is it really that dangerous?

Many scientists have raised alarm with early warnings. The variant is described by Dr. Tom Peacock at Imperial College London. “incredibly high amount of spike mutations, [which] suggests this could be of real concern”A post about a genome-sharing site. 

It “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile,”The Imperial College scientist saidIn a series tweets. Responding to a follower, Peacock said this mutation appears “Worse” than others at first glance but noted that it could just be “an odd cluster that isn’t very transmissible.”  

B.1.1.529 is known to have 32 mutations in the spike protein – the part of the virus which protrudes on the surface, appearing like spikes, and plays an important role in how the pathogen infects its host. Virus vaccines are designed to conform to its spike-protein profile. Mutations to this portion of the virus may make it more difficult for the body’s ability to fight off the infection.

Speaking on Thursday, the WHO’s technical head on Covid-19, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, admitted that little is known about the variant, with fewer than 100 full genomic sequences available for review. The UK Health Security Agency already considered it. “the worst variant we have seen so far.”  

Were we meant to be here?

Viruses mutate “often and at random,” noted Dr. Meera Chand, the Covid-19 incident director at the UK Health Security Agency. Chand explained to The Guardian that it was not unusual for new cases of the same mutation to be discovered in small numbers. 

The next step?

While news of the variant may have caused a global panic, sending stock markets plunging, we still don’t know how transmissible this strain is or whether it will be able to evade vaccine-induced immunity. Van Kerkhove assured that “any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.”She said that it might take several weeks before we can get a true picture of the effects of B.1.1.529.  

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