Variants Injecting Pandemic with ‘New Energy’

Commuters pass through Shinagawa station in Tokyo, January 8, 2021. Image: Takashi Aoyama/Getty
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Commuters pass through Shinagawa station in Tokyo, January 8, 2021. Image: Takashi Aoyama/Getty

Infectious new coronavirus variants spell bad news for already-strained hospitals, the WHO said yesterday, according to CNBC, as more details emerged on yet another new variant identified in Japan. 

  • Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases announced the detection of a new coronavirus variant Sunday, in 4 travelers arriving from Brazil,Newsweek reports.

  • The new strain shares one mutation with the more infectious variants identified recently in the UK and South Africa, “which could indicate that it may be more transmissible”—but Japanese scientists stress that is not yet clear.

  • Mike Ryan, WHO’s health emergencies chief, compared the mutating virus to the second half of a football game: “While it doesn’t change the rules of the game, it does give the ‘virus some new energy,’ he said in a press briefing yesterday, according to CNBC.

The US CDC said yesterday that there’s no evidence a single variant is driving the recent surge in US cases—but acknowledged the need to step up surveillance, The Washington Post reports

  • “Surveillance is such that we’d not detect any such variant until it was already emerged and well established,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

  • The CDC said that by the end of this week it will double the number of genomic sequences being uploaded to public databases, compared with December’s sequencing rate.

A Good Note: There isn’t any evidence that the vaccines won’t work on the new variants—but the WHO emphasized the importance of more equitable, timely vaccine distribution to slow proliferation of the new mutations, ABC reports.

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