The latest variant discovered is the most mutated so far – it has such a long list of mutations that one scientist described it as “scary”, while another said it was the worst strain they had ever seen. .
Photo: Shuttestock / Andrii Vodolazhskyi
A variant has been reported recently and confirmed cases are still concentrated in one province in South Africa, but cases have also been reported in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
It was confirmed today that the new strain has arrived in Europe. The first case of a new crown strain in a young woman, who was not vaccinated, and who returned from Egypt, has been confirmed in Belgium.
What do we know about the new strain of the virus – the tests can’t recognize it?
The public is immediately asked how quickly the new variant will spread, whether it is able to circumvent the protection provided by vaccines and what needs to be done.
There is a lot of speculation, but so far there are very few clear answers.
What do we know so far?
The variant is called B.1.1.529, but the WHO called it “omicron” on Friday.
It’s also incredibly evolutionarily advanced. Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said there was an “unusual constellation of mutations” and that it was “very different” from other variants circulating.
“This variant surprised us, it has a big evolutionary leap in evolution and a lot more mutations than expected,” he said.
The strain has a total of 50 mutations, of which 32 on the protein spike, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the gates of our cells.
Zooming even more into the domain of the receptor binding (it is the part of the virus that makes the first contact with the cells of our body), has 10 mutations in that place. For comparison, the delta variant in that domain has two mutations.
This level of mutation most likely developed in one of the immunocompromised patients, and some scientists suspected it was a patient with an undiagnosed HIV infection.
A lot of mutations don’t automatically mean they are bad. It is important to know what these mutations really do. But scientists are more concerned that this virus is now radically different from the one it originally appeared in Wuhan, China two years ago. This means that vaccines, which are thought to fight the original strain, may not be as effective.
Some of the mutations have been seen earlier in other variants, providing an insight into their likely role in this variant. For example, the N501 mutation seems to facilitate the spread of a new strain. There are some mutations that make it harder for antibodies to recognize the virus and can make vaccines less effective, but there are others that are completely new.
However, the key reason for concern of scientists is the fact that in South Africa, the share of B.1.1.529 among diagnosed infections is now close to 90 percent. The new strain took only 25 days to do, since it was recorded to exceed more than one percent of cases. It took the highly contagious delta 100 days to reach such a large part, and the beta after the first 100 days did not even reach 50 percent of the part in all cases.
In other words, the most worrying thing at the moment is the ability of the new variant to quickly express other strains, which seems really scary.
However, the general epidemiological situation in South Africa remains particularly poor. In recent days, there has been an increase in the number of positive tests in Africa, but all epidemiological data have not been carefully analyzed. There is also no evidence of a new wave of pandemics in South Africa.
There were several examples of variants that looked scary on paper, but in reality they weren’t so much. The beta variant worried people more at the beginning of the year because it was the best way to bypass the immune system, but in the end, the delta was the one that ruled the world.
Scientific studies in the lab will give a clearer picture, but the answers come more quickly from real-world virus monitoring. It is too early to draw concrete conclusions, but worrying signs must be taken seriously, writes the BBC.
It is also unusual that the strain can be detected by analyzing the results of regular PCR tests, without the use of genomic sequencing, but this will facilitate its monitoring.
Another question awaiting the answer is how the new strain will behave in countries with a high vaccination rate, given that it is only 24 percent in South Africa.