Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Which Covid variants are spreading worldwide?

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The UK is currently facing its fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, experts have warned, as daily case numbers hit a record high of 351,000, up 13 per cent since early July.

Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist behind the ZOE Covid app, said one in 15 people in the UK currently has the virus, adding that cases are still rising across England but are flattening out in Scotland and Wales.

Infection rates also continue to rise across all age groups, but are beginning to level off in children, research shows.

The latest surge first became apparent after the four-day bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, when a 43-per-rise increase in coronavirus cases was reported, and there are fears other big summer gatherings such as Glastonbury, Notting Hill Carnival and Edinburgh are taking place The Festival could all become super spreader events if proper precautions are not taken.

The surge is reportedly being driven by subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 of Omicron, the strain that spread rapidly across the UK in December 2021 and January 2022 before gradually declining.

First spotted in South Africa in January and February respectively, these latest incarnations are effectively Omicron’s grandsons.

They have three mutations in their spike proteins that, it is feared, allow them to retrain their attack on human lung cells.

This means they have more in common with the earlier, more dangerous Alpha and Delta variants than the highly transmissible but milder Omicron, which targeted upper respiratory tissue.

Possibly, these mutations could also allow the subvariants to evade antibodies from previous infections or vaccinations, thus overcoming immunity.

Preliminary data collected by Professor Kei Sato of the University of Tokyo in Japan seems to indicate so, prompting the virologist to comment: “Overall, our research suggests that the risk of [these] The global health Omicron variants, particularly BA.4 and BA.5, are potentially better than the original BA.2.”

While immunity is high in Britain, with 87.3 per cent of the population having received two doses of the vaccine and 68.7 per cent of people having received a booster shot, the public has largely acted as if the pandemic never happened since the government’s last unpopular confinement would have been lifted a month ahead of schedule on February 24, gave up face masks, distanced themselves and returned to normal.

However, it has been more than six months since the last major booster jab drive before Christmas and the New Year and immunity could be waning, potentially leaving more patients in need of professional care and possibly even dying, either now or later in the year that flu season begins.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Immunizations and Vaccination, has already called for a new round of booster shots to be made available by September.

“The booster protection wears off, especially in the case of lighter infections and after a while also in the case of severe infections. So that’s a disappointment for all of us in terms of these vaccines, which have otherwise been very valuable in terms of the pandemic,” he told BBC Radio 4 today Program.

“But we will need to provide booster shots, particularly for people who are at risk of becoming very seriously ill if they get it later in the year.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been monitoring these strains since April and currently Omicron, including its subvariants BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5 and progeny, is the only form of Covid known to be ” Variant of Concern”.

Fortunately, there are earlier variants in this category such as Alpha (formerly known as B.1.1.7 and first discovered in Kent), Beta (formerly B.1.351, from South Africa), Delta (B.1.617.2, India) and Gamma (P.1, Brazil) have been banned from the list and are not currently considered a threat.

Others that were once under scrutiny, like the epsilon, eta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, theta, and zeta variants, don’t even make the “interesting variants” list anymore the WHO.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control also lists the same Omicron subvariants of concern, with the exception of the BA.3 strain, which it has only de-escalated to surveillance status.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently only lists the same subvariants as “of concern” but retains Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Eta, Gamma, Iota, Kappa, Mu, and Zeta as “variants in monitoring”.

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