Be on the look-out for fresh pandemic trouble ahead. Another dangerously powerful variant of the SARS-Cov2 virus, which causes the Covid-19 fever, has emerged in Botswana and South Africa. It is currently categorised as variant B.1.1.259. Early studies suggest that it could be as much as five times as infectious as the Delta variant.
Only around 100 cases of the new strain have so far been firmly identified, mainly in South Africa. But Hong Kong and Israel have had cases too, suggesting it is too late to contain it. Countries are tightening border restrictions in response.
Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an Epidemiologist with the Federation of American Scientists, has put up a Twitter thread to explain current understanding of the new strain.
As frightening as the transmission rate of the new strain is the sheer speed at which SARS-Cov2 appears able to mutate. Thirty-two points of variation from the previous dominant strain is an extraordinary rate of change. B.1.1.259 shows some resistance to current vaccines, while it has ‘out-evolved’ the Delta variant to the brink of extinction within months. It is also different enough to earlier strains that some established tests are unreliable in detecting who is infected with it.
The pandemic is far from over, everybody. Indeed, this new development could mean the worst of it is still to come.
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