Covid variants raise concerns20 June 2021
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The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) raised the alarm: “With virus variants, there is a high risk of an increase in infections in Europe.” In other words, there is a high risk that the new coronavirus variants now under observation (the English, South African, Brazilian and Indian ones) will continue to spread in Europe causing a higher number of Covid-19 cases. While there is no evidence that these virus strains cause a more severe illness, their increased transmissibility means that the impact of Covid-19 in terms of hospitalizations and deaths is considered “high, especially among the elderly and people affected by several conditions,” wrote the ECDC in a paper published on its website.
First detected in October 2020 in the UK, the English or Alpha variant has spread from there throughout Europe and to some 60 other countries, replacing the previous version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The South African or Beta variant, which is prevalent in South Africa, has been isolated in at least 20 other countries since January 2021 and it seems to spread 50% more effectively than the original virus, and more easily among young people.
The Gamma variant, isolated at the start of this year in Japan and then in Brazil, is closely watched specifically for 3 mutations, that affect the efficiency with which the virus binds to the ACE2 receptor in human cells.
Finally, another variant under special watch is the Indian or Delta variant, which spread rapidly in about 100 countries and is characterized by a high transmissibility of 50 to 60%, higher than the transmissibility of the Alpha variant, which means it could become predominant.
The ECDC considers the likelihood of an increased circulation of these variants, and therefore of an increased pressure on national health systems, as “high, all the more so in countries where the new variants have been circulating for some time.” The same will hold true even “if current public health measures are maintained.”
Viruses mutate constantly, the ECDC noted, and therefore the emergence of new variants is not unexpected or worrying in itself, not even for SARS-CoV-2. Already “thousands of variants are circulating, and many more will emerge, many of them with no effect on the transmissibility or severity of the disease.”
The ECDC recommends for European states to provide a timely sequencing of a significant fraction of the samples that were isolated, so as to detect the arrival of known variants, and of any new ones, while continuing to monitor the rate of transmission and severity of infection, increasing tracking of cases and isolating any suspected and confirmed cases of the new variants. It is also important to maintain and strengthen non-pharmacological measures, following the local epidemiological situation, and to invite people to avoid non-essential travel and social activities. “While there is no evidence to suggest that new variants cause more severe forms of Covid-19,” the ECDC repeated, “preliminary results suggest that they may be more contagious, and therefore the risk of increased circulation in Europe is high.”
Oscar Giacomin / General Manager, Facto Edizioni
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