[UK Secretary of State for Health] Sajid Javid tonight sounded the alarm over a new ‘worst-ever’ super-mutant Covid variant that will make vaccines at least 40 per cent less effective — forcing flights to be banned from South Africa and five other countries.
Experts explained earlier how the B.1.1.529 variant has more than 30 mutations — the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta — that suggest it could be more jab-resistant and transmissible than any version before it.
It is taking over from delta in South Africa because it is more infectious. Presumably it will take over everywhere else in the coming months:
The variant — which could be named ‘Nu’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days [no, it was named “omicron”, skipping over “nu” and “xi”] — has caused an ‘exponential’ rise in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries — including Hong Kong and Botswana, where it is believed to have emerged.
Proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian ‘Delta’ variant (red) over time in South Africa.
All the current vaccines are designed to counter the original Wuhan virus, so they are becoming increasingly ineffectual as the mutations accumulate.
Experts from the UKHSA have been advising ministers on the issue, with a number of scientists expressing serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.
One senior scientist said: ‘One of our major worries is this virus spike protein is so dramatically different to the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, that it has a great cause of concern.’ …
Although only 100 cases of the new variant have so far been identified, it is already in three countries, suggesting it is more widespread than the official tally.
Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong — both of whom had links to South Africa — three have been picked up in Botswana and the remainder are in South Africa.
But a lack of surveillance on continental Africa may be underestimating the true numbers there, scientists warned. … Nationally, infections in South Africa have surged tenfold from 100 per day to 1,100, after the variant was first detected in neighbouring Botswana on November 11.
How dangerous is it? How much does it degrade the usefulness of the current vaccines? Is it too late for Australia to close its borders again?
Hopefully it is more transmissible but less deadly, so it replaces delta with something less dangerous. But maybe it will be more dangerous, just as delta was more harmful than the original.
Yet another argument for anti-virals, which work on all variants more or less equally.
hat-tip Stephen Neil