A new variant of the coronavirus that causes kidney disease Covid-19 has been identified in South Africa, and the country’s authorities have shown their concern about this new strain, called B.1.1.529.
Fears that this new variant will again cause outbreaks across the globe and overload health systems, escaping vaccine protection and complicating efforts to reopen economies and borders, triggered a wave of risk aversion on Friday. in world markets.
European stock indices and oil futures fell, while bonds rose. And furthermore, governments around the world have begun issuing travel bans on travelers from South Africa and from nearby countries.
This is what we know so far:
What is different about this variant?
Scientists claim that variant B.1.1.529 it has a high number of mutations in its peak protein, which plays a key role in the entry of the virus into the cells of the body.
This protein is also the target of vaccines, so researchers are still trying to determine whether it is more transmissible or more lethal than previous strains.
Where does it come from?
At the moment there is only speculation. A scientist from UCL Institute of Genetics, in London, stated that the strain probably evolved during a chronic infection in an immunosuppressed person, possibly in a patient with Untreated HIV / AIDS.
In South Africa there are 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the largest number in the world. The beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, also appears to come from a person infected with the VIH.
How much has it spread?
As of Thursday, almost 100 cases in South Africa, where it has become the dominant strain among new infections.
The first results of the PCR tests showed that 90 percent 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 genetic sequencing institutions at two South African universities.
In the neighboring nation, Botswana, authorities registered four cases in fully vaccinated people on Monday.
On Hong KongMeanwhile, it was discovered that a traveler from South Africa he had the variant, and another case was identified in a person quarantined in a room in the same hotel as the traveler in question.
Israel has also identified a case in a man who recently traveled to Malawi.
How have the markets responded?
News of the new variant shook the financial markets on Friday, and stocks, Treasury yields and oil plunged, with values related to travel the ones that fell the most.
The yen, commonly regarded as a safe haven asset, rose 0.6 percent against the dollar, while the South African rand fell to its lowest level in a year.
US equities, whose trading will resume after Thanksgiving holiday, will open lower, with the contracts of December índice S&P 500 falling 1.7 percent, the biggest drop since September.
European stocks recorded the biggest drop since July, and the index Eurostoxx 50 it was down 3 percent. The bonds of the treasure They rose across the board, pushing yields down, with the five-year rate dropping 13 basis points.
Oil futures in New York they fell as much as 6.4 percent and traded below $ 74 a barrel. Copper, nickel and aluminum fell by at least 2 percent in operations of London.
How are other countries responding?
United Kingdom temporarily banned flights from six African countries, and other nations quickly followed suit.
Singapore has restricted the entry of people who have been in South Africa and nearby countries in the last 14 days, while the European Union proposed to halt air travel from southern Africa.
Australia He assured that he would not rule out tightening border regulations for travelers from southern Africa if the situation worsens, while India stepped up control of travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
To what extent is this variant worrisome?
It’s too soon to say that. The World Health Organization indicated that there are fewer than 100 complete genomic sequences of the new strain available, which could increase the time needed to study how it compares to previous strains and its impact on Covid therapies and vaccines.
Viruses mutate all the time, and the changes sometimes make the virus weaker or more adept at evading antibodies and infecting humans.
What should we keep in mind next?
The WHO has called a meeting on Friday to discuss the variant B.1.1.529 and decide whether it is officially designated as a variant of interest or concern.
If you do, you will receive a Greek letter name according to the naming scheme of the WHO, probably the letter “nu”.
As researchers continue to study the data for variant B.1.1.529, more details will become available on its virulence and lethality.