New COVID variant sparks international alarm

New COVID variant sparks international alarm

 

 

What do we know about the variant?

B.1.1.529 has multiple mutations and it could help; it evade the body’s immune response; and make it more transmissible, South African scientists said on Thursday.

 

While the delta variant has two mutations and the beta variant has three ;— the B.1.1.529 variant has at least 32 spike protein mutations.

 

Younger people appear to be contracting and spreading the newly identified variant; but the next weeks will be key in determining how severe the variant is, scientists said.

 

Germany’s health minister and the director of federal agency for disease control and prevention; the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), were asked about the B1.1.529 variant during their weekly press briefing on Friday.

 

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin that the “high number of mutations” noted were “at least cause for preliminary concern;” even if tests were ongoing to determine how transmissible or how resistant to vaccines the variant was.

 

He described the German decision to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and some other countries in the region, with an exact list yet to be decided; as a “necessary, proactive, preventive protective measure.”

 

RKI director Lothar Wieler said that some genome mutations appeared to “suggest that there could be a higher rate of transmission.”

 

“And there are other mutations where it’s not yet clear what they mean biologically. That means we really are very concerned,” Wieler said.

 

Spahn was also asked about people who had recently returned to Germany from South Africa.

 

Legally, he said, the new restrictions could only apply once imposed. However, he appealed to anyone who’d recently returned from southern Africa; even if it was 10 or 20 days ago, to isolate themselves and to “take a test — and preferably a PCR test.”

 

Markets down across the board on variant news

 

Germany’s blue chip stock index DAX was down 3% and the UK’s FTSE 100 was down and on course; for its biggest drop in a year on news of the new COVID-19 variant in the morning trading session.

 

The FTSE 100 was down to its lowest in nearly two months; with a sell-off being led by commodity, travel and banking stocks.

 

Oil fell below $80 (€71) per barrel.

 

Bitcoin also tumbled 7.8% to $54,337, its lowest since October 12.

 

The second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, Ether, tumbled 11.6%.

ALSO READ: As world continues to battle the Delta variant, a new variant ‘worse than delta’ emerges

 

Investors dashed to the relative safety of the Japanese Yen and the Swiss franc Friday.

 

Gold also rose 0.7% on Friday.

 

Roland Kaloyan, the head of European equity strategy at Societe Generale, told Reuters: “We don’t know so much about this variant yet but if it’s serious; it could change the macro scenarios altogether.”

 

Israel finds case of variant

Israel’s Health Ministry said it had detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant in a person returning from Malawi.

 

In a statement Friday, the ministry said the individual; and two other individuals with suspected cases of the variant were all in quarantine.

 

All three were fully vaccinated.

 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held consultations with health experts Friday regarding the variant.

 

“During the night I was informed that there is one verified case here in Israel; and this is disturbing,” he said.

 

On Thursday, authorities announced travel to southern Africa from Israel for citizens was banned and foreign nationals from the region would be denied entry.

 

“We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” Bennett said.

 

Officials sound the alarm

Scientists are studying the variant that was first detected in South Africa earlier in the week.

 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa said 22 cases of the new B.1.1.529 variant; as it is known, had been detected in the country but that it expected more cases as genomic analysis is ongoing.

 

The WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said there are currently fewer than 100 whole genome sequences of the strain available.

 

She said it would take a few more weeks of scientific work to determine whether the variant would be considered a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern.”

 

“Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates; the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see,” Van Kerkhove said.

 

The UK Health Security Agency reports the new variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.

 

Germany’s health ministry moved to declare South Africa a virus variant area.

 

The WHO convenes emergency talks

The WHO convened an emergency meeting set for early Friday afternoon to discuss the new variant.

 

Scientists are concerned about the high number of mutations within the variant and worry it could be resistant to vaccines and more easily passed on to others.

 

The working group meeting Friday will determine whether to officially label the variant “of concern;” a distinction only four variants to date have received.

 

Countries move to close air traffic from southern Africa

Countries in Asia and Europe including Germany; the Czech Republic, Italy and the UK quickly imposed restrictions Friday after the emergence of a potentially vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant was detected in South Africa.

 

The EU moved to halt air travel from the entire southern African region amid concerns over the newly detected South African variant; the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

 

She said the Commission will propose “to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region” due to the emergence of the new variant.

About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

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