Covid – 19: New Strain More Infectious Than Delta

Representative

The Director of the London-based UCL Genetics Institute, Francois Balloux, has suggested that the new covid strain may have come from a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, who may possibly be an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.

Scientists globally red-flagged a new coronavirus variant – B.1.1.529 over an alarmingly high number of spike mutations that might make the virus more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.

The B.1.1.529 variant has 50 mutations overall. It includes more than 30 on the spike protein alone and the spike protein is the target of most current COVID-19 vaccines and is what the virus uses to unlock access to our body’s cells.

Compared to two for the Delta variant, there are 10 mutations on the receptor-binding domain part of the variant. The Delta Plus that mutated from the latter was characterized by the K417N mutation on the spike protein. It is unclear if this is among the mutations in B.1.1.529 as this has been linked to immune escape.

The Director of the London-based UCL Genetics Institute, Francois Balloux, has suggested that the new covid strain may have come from a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, who may possibly be an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.

The strain was first identified in South Africa this week, spreading to nearby countries, including Botswana, where fully vaccinated people have been infected. Over 100 cases have been linked to this variant in South Africa, with several more in Botswana.

Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong – where travelers from parts of southern Africa were isolated in separate rooms. Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted this morning that their samples returned “very high” viral loads. “PCR Ct values of 18 and 19… insanely high considering they were negative on recent PCR tests,” he added.

Because the patients were in separate rooms, there is concern this variant is airborne. Dr. Feigl-Ding tweeted, “… looks like vaccine evasion could be real with this variant… and yes, it is very airborne. Hotel guests were in different room across the hallway. Environmental samples found the virus in 25 of 87 swab across both rooms.”

India called for rigorous screening of passengers from these countries on Thursday. The ministry said, “This variant… has serious public health implications in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.”

Indian equity benchmarks nosedived Friday with the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex falling more than 1,400 points and the Nifty 50 index dropping below 17,100 on weak global cues.

Flights from South Africa, Botswana, and four other African nations have been stopped by the United Kingdom and Israel. Australia may tighten rules for incoming travelers as well.

The World Health Organization has called for caution in the initial stages of dealing with this covid variant. More research needs to be conducted to understand how B.1.1.529 behaves, the global health body said. The importance of ensuring complete vaccination was underlined by WHO’s COVID-19 Technical Lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.

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