A new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is spreading in Britain and prompting high levels of concern, especially among the country’s European neighbours, some of which have cut transport links.
The variant, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge, but is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the United Kingdom, based on modelling.
Virus mutations seen so far
In April, researchers in Sweden found a virus with two genetic changes that seemed to make it roughly two times more infectious, said Dr. Ravi Gupta, who studies viruses at the University of Cambridge in England. About 6,000 cases worldwide have been reported, mostly in Denmark and England.
Several variations of that strain now have turned up. Some were reported in people who got them from mink farms in Denmark. A new South African strain has the two changes seen before, plus some others.
Britain’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said on Saturday he thought the new variant might have started in the U.K.
The cause for concern
Jason Kindrachuk, Canada Research Chair in molecular pathogenesis of emerging and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said a variant is a variation in a circulating strain of the virus that’s broadly spread over large communities rather than localized.
In this case, the new variant has rapidly become the dominant one in cases of COVID-19 in parts of southern England, and has been linked to an increase in hospitalization rates, especially in London and in the adjacent county of Kent.
While it was first seen in Britain in September, by the week of Dec. 9 in London, 62 per cent of COVID-19 cases were a result of the new variant. That compared to 28 per cent of cases three weeks earlier.
The governments of Australia, Italy and the Netherlands said they had detected cases of the new variant. It was identified in the Netherlands in early December.
WATCH l WHO addresses new variants detected in U.K.:
Iceland and Denmark have also reported a few cases of COVID-19 with the new variant to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Europe’s disease monitoring agency. Media reports in Belgium say cases have also been detected there.
“It is right to take it seriously,” said Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
What scientists are watching
The main worry is that the variant seems to be more transmissible than the original. It has 23 mutations in its genetic code — a relatively high number of changes — and some of these could be affecting its ability to spread.
“We’re trying to figure out what the consequences are in real time,” Kindrachuk said
He said the potential consequences scientists are looking for include:
- What are the biological consequences?
- What does this mean for vaccine efficacy?
- What does this mean for immune responses?
- What does this mean for transmission?
Some of the mutations are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target.
“I’m worried about this, for sure,” said Gupta, adding it’s too soon to know how important it ultimately will prove to be.
Scientists estimate the variant is about 40 to 70 per cent more transmissible. The U.K. government said on Saturday it could increase the reproduction R rate by 0.4, from 1.1 to 1.5.
This means it is spreading faster in Britain, making the pandemic there even harder to control and increasing the risk that it will also spread swiftly in other countries.
“The new B.1.1.7 … still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit,” said Martin Hibberd, a professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Kindrachuk suggested waiting for the “full slate of the data” to see if it points in the direction of increased transmission or not.
There is cause for concern when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface because those changes might help it escape from vaccines, drugs or the immune system.
“Emerging evidence” suggests that may be starting to happen with the new coronavirus, Trevor Bedford, a biologist and genetics expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, wrote on Twitter.
“We’ve now seen the emergence and spread of several variants” that suggest this, he said, noting that some show resistance to antibody treatments.
There is no evidence the mutated variant of the virus increases the severity of the disease, although it is more transmissible, officials with the World Health Organization said on Monday, citing U.K. analysis.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19, said scientists are looking at the body’s antibody response to the virus and she expects results in the coming days and weeks.
Will the current vaccines offer protection?
Scientists say there’s no evidence that the vaccines being deployed in the U.K. — made by Pfizer-BioNTech — or other COVID-19 shots in development will not protect against this variant.
“It’s unlikely that this will have anything more than a minor, if any, effect on the vaccine’s effectiveness,” said Adam Finn, a vaccine specialist and professor of pediatrics at Bristol University.
“We are not seeing … any gross changes in the spike protein that will reduce vaccine effectiveness so far,” said Julian Tang, professor and clinical virologist at Leicester University.
U.S president-elect Joe Biden’s surgeon general nominee, Vivek Murthy, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that there’s “no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well.”
Vaccines produce wide-ranging responses by the immune system beyond just those to the spike protein, several experts noted. The possibility that new strains will be resistant to existing vaccines are low, but not “inexistent,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s vaccine distribution effort, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant,” said Slaoui. “This particular variant in the U.K., I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity.”
Will current COVID-19 tests detect the new variant?
One of the mutations in the new variant affects one of three genomic targets used by some PCR tests. This means that in those tests, that target area, or “channel,” would come up negative.
“This has affected the ability of some tests to detect the virus,” said Robert Shorten, an expert in microbiology at the Association for Clinical Biochemistry & Laboratory Medicine.
Since PCR tests generally detect more than one gene target, however, a mutation in the spike protein only partly affects the test, reducing that risk of false negative results.
Are Canadian scientists on the lookout for the new variant?
Researchers are doing genome sequencing work on the coronavirus in Canada.
“We haven’t seen anything that’s overtaken the current circulating strain here in Canada,” Kindrachuk said.
To be cautious, he said scientists are checking for the variant in people who’ve recently travelled from the U.K.
2 deaths, 180 COVID-19 cases announced in Manitoba Saturday – Global News
Manitoba public health officials confirm two additional deaths in people with COVID-19 have been reported.
The deaths are a man in his 70s from Southern Health-Santé Sud and a man in his 80s from the Winnipeg health region.
The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 10.2 per cent provincially and 7 per cent in Winnipeg.
As of 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 180 new cases of the virus have been identified and the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Manitoba has risen to 27,322.
The new cases are in the following regions:
- 10 cases in the Interlake-Eastern health region
- 69 cases in the Northern health region
- eight cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region
- 10 cases in the Southern Health-Santé Sud health region
- 83 cases in the Winnipeg health region.
The data also shows there are 2,986 active cases and 23,575 individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.
There are 122 people in hospital with active COVID-19 as well as 161 people in hospital with COVID-19 who are no longer infectious but continue to require care, for a total of 283 hospitalizations.
COVID-19 cases rising in the north
There are 19 people being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care units, as well as 17 people with COVID-19 who are no longer infectious but continue to require critical care, for a total of 36 ICU patients.
The total number of deaths due to COVID-19 is 761. Due to a data error, one death that had been reported earlier has been removed.
Laboratory testing numbers show 2,043 tests were completed Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February 2020 to 450,104.
An outbreak has been declared at Lynn Lake Hospital in northwestern Manitoba. The site has been moved to Critical (red) on the Pandemic Response System.
The outbreak at Seven Oaks General Hospital, 4U4-7 in Winnipeg is now declared over.
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Local epidemiologist Cynthia Carr says while it has been challenging to follow health restrictions, it has made a difference.
“These restrictions and the work we have done together really does matter on the serious of levels. working together we have saved almost 2,000 lives. It might have been 1,700, 1,800 or 1,600 but the reality is it mattered,” she said.
And while our numbers remain steady for now, there are still obstacles in certain regions — particularly the North.
Carr says if the pandemic hasn’t ripped the issue of housing wide open in other areas, she doesn’t know what will.
“This is an ongoing challenge. When I go to a community and do community health assessments and I talk to leadership about health, they won’t say we need a fancy hospital, X-ray machines, etc., one of the first things will be the foundation of housing.”
She says infrastructure is absolutely related to health, and it hasn’t been attended to in our northern communities.
–With files from Anya Nazeravich
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
One of Canada's oldest seniors, at 110 years old, gets COVID-19 vaccine at Surrey care home – Cowichan Valley Citizen
JaHyung Lee, a resident at a Newton care home, received his COVID-19 vaccine at the age of 110.
Amenida Seniors Community said in a news release that residents at the facility received the first dose of their vaccines on Thursday (Jan. 14). JaHyung Lee is one of Canada’s oldest seniors to be inoculated.
The second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered “in the coming weeks.”
“We are extremely lucky that we have received enough supplies to vaccinate all of our residents in care,” said Rosa Park, general manager at Amenida.
“As many of our seniors are elderly and require complex care, we can feel safer knowing that the virus won’t be spreading within our community.”
A reporter with the Now-Leader attended Lee’s 109th birthday in 2019. He was born on Aug. 27, 1910.
Meantime, Fraser Health says it has completed 151 vaccine clinics for long-term care and assisted living in the health region.
Latest COVID update Jan. 16: Sask. administers record-high vaccines – CKOM News Talk Sports
Saskatchewan administered its highest one-day total of COVID-19 vaccinations Friday.
The encouraging news comes as the province also reported two more COVID-related deaths and 270 new cases in its daily update Saturday.
The 2,857 vaccine doses were delivered in the following areas: Saskatoon (893), Prince Albert (857), northeast (426), southeast (285), Regina (267) and the far northwest (129). The far north-central region also administered 53 vaccines on Thursday. Friday’s information wasn’t available in the provincial update. There have now been 16,927 vaccines delivered across Saskatchewan.
An update on incoming vaccines from manufacturer Pfizer was also provided in the media release.
“Due to work to expand its European manufacturing facility, production of the Pfizer vaccine will be impacted for a few weeks,” the release stated.
“Pfizer is temporarily reducing deliveries, potentially by half, to all countries receiving vaccine manufactured at this facility.”
The province reaffirmed that vaccines will continue to be administered according to its priority sequence.
A shipment of 4,900 vaccines arrive from manufacturer Moderna on Friday. Distribution is happening in the central and southeast zones. Poor conditions on Friday delayed the shipment arriving in the far northeast zone until Saturday. Clinics are expected to begin Saturday and continue on Sunday.
Daily COVID-19 cases
The province is reporting a total of 19,985 COVID-19 cases.
Both people who tested positive for COVID-19 and died were from the Regina area. One was reported in the 60-69 age group and one was in the 80-plus age category.
The new cases are located in the Saskatoon (68), northwest (49), Regina (47), southeast (26), north-central (23) far northeast (15), northeast (13), far northwest (10), south-central (six), central-east (five) and far north-central (one) zones. Seven new cases are still pending residence information.
There were an additional 12 cases previously without a location assigned to the north-central (six), far northeast (two), far northwest (one), northwest (one), Saskatoon (one) and southwest (one) zones.
A total of 15,730 people have recovered and 4,043 cases are considered active.
The seven-day average of daily new cases is 311 (25.7 new cases per 100,000 population).
There are 199 people in hospital.
Of the 164 receiving inpatient care: 55 are in Saskatoon, 34 are in Regina, 30 are in the north-central region, 10 are in the northeast, 10 are in the southeast, 10 are in the northwest, seven are in the central-east, three are in the far northwest and one person is hospitalized in each of the far north-central, far northeast, central-west, southwest and south-central zones.
Thirty-five people are in intensive care. Patients are located in Saskatoon (17), Regina (nine), north-central (five), northwest (two), central-east (one) and south-central (one).
There were 3,071 COVID-19 tests processed Friday.
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