Scientists have discovered the most heavily mutated variant of the deadly coronavirus so far. The variant has a long list of mutations, and one scientist described it as horrific and the worst variant ever discovered. It is the initial days of the variant, and its confirmed cases are still primarily intense in one province of South Africa, but health experts have concerns that it may spread further.
There is a lot of speculation about the new variant – B.1.1.529 – and questions are spreading immediately about how quickly it spreads. Likewise, scientists have concerns that it may bypass some of the protection against the virus through vaccines. This version of the COVID-19 has more than fifty mutations in total, with more than thirty changes to the spike protein.
However, many of these mutations are already present in other existing COVID-19 variants. Seeing on several mutations, mainly when they affect the crucial spike protein, should raise some concerns. Furthermore, the immune protection using the COVID-19 vaccine or previous infection is possibly oriented towards earlier versions of the virus and spike proteins. That protection has some flexibility and may fight off virus versions that are slightly different from the original one.
So, such protection may become less effective against more different mutations of the virus. The primary concern is that finally, an escape variant of coronavirus will emerge, which is much different from earlier versions and therefore can readily get past immune protection. Before yesterday, health officials reported only ten confirmed B.1.1.529 variant cases: six in South Africa, three in Botswana, and one in Hong Kong (he just traveled in South Africa).
Current Coronavirus is radically Different from the Original
The Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation director in South Africa, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, said this variant surprised the health officials. It has a significant jump on evolution and several more mutations than they expected. However, the concern is that the virus’s current forms are radically different from the original that initially emerged in Wuhan, China. It means drug companies that designed vaccines using the original strain may not be as effective.
There have several examples of coronavirus variants that seemed terrifying on documents but came to nothing. Furthermore, the Beta variant of the virus was at the top of people’s concerns at the start of this year because it was the best at escaping the immune system. However, at the end of the year, the faster-spreading Delta variant covered the whole world.
Scientific research in the laboratory will give a clearer image, but answers will come more rapidly from monitoring the virus in the real world. Still, it is early to conclude, but there are already some signs that are causing concerns. For example, health officials reported seventy-seven confirmed cases of the new contagious variant in Gauteng province in South Africa, four cases reported in Botswana, and one reported in Hong Kong. These are clues that the B.1.1.529 variant is spreading even more widely.
In the standard tests, this variant seems to give unusual results such as S-gene dropout, and that may use to track the variant without performing a complete genetic analysis. That suggests ninety percent of cases in Gauteng may already be this COVID variant, and it may already be detected in most provinces of the country.
Whether new variant is spreading faster than Delta?
Scientists are still examining whether the new variant B.1.1.529 spreads faster than the Delta variant. The recent research does not tell us the severeness of the variant to what extent it can evade immune protection using vaccines. It also doesn’t tell us how the new variant will spread in nations with much higher vaccination rates than the twenty-four percent of South Africa that received full vaccination doses.
This new variant is really worrisome at the mutational level. South Africa and Africa will need support (financially, public health, scientific) to control it so it does not spread in the world. Our poor and deprived population can not be in lockdown without financial support. pic.twitter.com/CeJIXudUIA
— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) November 25, 2021
At present, the term B.1.1.529 is not like Mambo No. 5, 867-5309/Jenny or R2D2. But this new coronavirus variant may not be only known as a junk of numbers for long. In addition, a significant number of mutations and the instant spread of the B.1.1.529 variant provoked the expert group of the World Health Organization to discuss the variant. As a result, there is more chance they will dub B.1.1.529 as either a variant of concern or a variant of interest.
Designation of the variant will mean that its name will soon possibly be Greek to everyone. In addition, the WHO will likely assign a Greek letter as a name to the variant. The following letter up in the Greek language would be Nu. So, soon the organization named it as coronavirus Nu variant or the new Nu variant. This variant has several mutations and seems to be spreading, but it does not mean it will be the following Delta variant. Or even the next Mu variant or Lambda variant.
It is Too Early to Say B.1.1.529 is More Contagious than Delta Variant
Still, it is too early to tell how much of a problem the new variant will become. A combination of more epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies will be essential to find whether this version of the coronavirus 2 is indeed more transmissible and contagious than the Delta variant and to what extent this version may bypass existing vaccine protection or previous infection.
Not all mutations are suitable for the coronavirus and bad for humans. While more mutations may make the spike protein less identifiable by human current immune defenses, it may also affect the ability of the virus to infect humans and spread. For now, it will be more crucial to monitor the new variant’s spread deeply and better find out how much of a risk it could be.
It is another reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but the emergency has not gone. It isn’t the time for premature relaxation of coronavirus precautions. On the other hand, the coronavirus vaccines offer good protection, and they are not solid full-body safety. These vaccines don’t provide hundred-percent protection. So, it is crucial to maintain other precautions like social distancing and face mask-wearing whenever possible.