Friday, January 21

What we know about the new virus variant that is shaking the markets

A new variant of the coronavirus causing Covid-19, called B.1.1.529, has been identified in South Africa, and officials say it is cause for concern. Fears that a new strain could fuel outbreaks in many countries, putting pressure on healthcare systems, potentially evading vaccines and complicating efforts to reopen economies and borders, sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets on Friday.

This is what we know so far:

1. What is different about this variant?

Scientists say that B.1.1.529 carries a large number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the entry of the virus into the cells of the body. It is also the goal of vaccines. Researchers are still trying to determine if it is more transmissible or more lethal than the previous ones.

2. Where did it come from?

So far there is only speculation. A scientist at the UCL Genetics Institute in London said it likely evolved during a chronic infection in an immunosuppressed person, possibly in an untreated HIV / AIDS patient. South Africa has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the highest number in the world. The beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, can also come from an HIV-infected person.

3. How widespread is it?

As of Thursday, nearly 100 cases had been detected in South Africa, where it became the dominant strain among new infections. The first results of the PCR test showed that 90% of the 1,100 new cases reported on Wednesday in the South African province that includes Johannesburg were caused by the new variant, according to Tulio de Oliveira, a professor of bioinformatics who directs institutions of gene sequencing in two southern countries. African Universities. In neighboring Botswana, authorities recorded four cases Monday in people who were fully vaccinated. In Hong Kong, a traveler from South Africa was found to have the variant and another case was identified in a quarantined person in a hotel room across the hall.

This new variant, B.1.1.529, seems to be spreading really fast! In less than 2 weeks it now dominates all infections after a devastating Delta wave in South Africa (new blue variant, now in 75% of the latest genomes and will soon reach 100%)

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4. What was the reaction?

News of the new variant shook the markets on Friday, and travel-related stocks in Asia were among the most declining as investors anticipated the negative impact it will have on travel. The yen, generally seen as a safe-haven asset, rose 0.6% against the dollar, while the South African rand fell to a one-year low. The UK issued a temporary ban on flights from six African countries, and other countries followed suit, and Singapore restricted entry to people who have been to South Africa and nearby nations in the past 14 days. Australia said it would not rule out tightening border rules for travelers from South Africa if the situation worsens, while India tightened control of travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

5. How disturbing is this?

It’s too soon to say that. The World Health Organization said there are fewer than 100 complete genomic sequences of the new variant available, which could increase the time it takes to study it, as well as the effectiveness of current vaccines against it. Viruses mutate all the time, and the changes sometimes make the virus weaker or sometimes more adept at evading antibodies and infecting humans.

6. What should we look for next?

The WHO called a meeting on Friday to discuss B.1.1.529 and decide whether it will be officially designated as a variant of interest or concern. If you do, you will receive a Greek letter name under the WHO naming scheme, probably the letter “nu”. Governments are also likely to take action on border and travel controls in response to news of the variant.

World Health Organization (WHO)


Dr @mvankerkhove provides an update on variant B.1.1.529 of the # COVID19 virus, during the #AskWHO session on November 25, 2021.

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© 2021 Bloomberg

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