India covid-19 double mutacion

A new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus has been detected from samples collected in India.

Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.

Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants – 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.

Officials say the variants are not linked to a spike in cases in India.

India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday – the sharpest daily rise this year.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India’s health ministry, carried out genomic sequencing on the latest samples. Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism – in this case, the virus.

The genetic code of the virus works like its instruction manual. Mutations in viruses are common but most of them are insignificant and do not cause any change in its ability to transmit or cause serious infection. But some mutations, like the ones in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make the virus more infectious and in some cases even deadlier.

Virologist Shahid Jameel explained that a “double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system”.

The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells.

The government said that an analysis of the samples collected from India’s western Maharashtra state showed “an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations” compared with December last year.

“Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” the health ministry said .

Dr Jameel added that “there may be a separate lineage developing in India with the L452R and E484Q mutations coming together”.

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Are double mutants a worry?

Soutik Biswas, BBC News, Delhi

Mutations in the spike gene can make the virus inherently “better” at infecting people or can help the virus to escape neutralising antibodies.

This means if the virus mutates in the “right way”, it can reinfect someone who has already recovered from Covid-19.

But scientists say reinfections will be very mild compared to primary infections in people who are vaccinated or who recovered already from an earlier case of Covid-19.

But if the virus can use reinfection to spread, then it would be “penetrating” herd immunity, says Dr Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport. (Herd immunity happens when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease through vaccination or through the mass spread of the disease.)

This puts the most vulnerable people at risk of severe disease, since the virus can move through the herd to reach them.

He says unlike some other variants, India’s new double variant is not likely to be more deadly or more inherently transmissible, but that more data is needed to be sure.

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The Indian government denies that the rise in cases is linked to the mutations.

“Though VOCs [variants of concern] and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states,” the health ministry said.

The recent report comes after several experts had asked the government to step up genome sequencing efforts.

“We need to constantly monitor and make sure none of the variants of concern are spreading in the population. The fact that it is not happening now doesn’t mean it will not happen in the future. And we have to make sure that we get the evidence early enough,” Biswas earlier this month.

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India became the fifth country in the world to sequence the genome of the novel coronavirus after isolating it from some of the first cases recorded in January last year.

More than 11.7 million cases and 160,000 deaths later, efforts are continuing to identify mutations.

The latest surge – which began this month – comes during what some experts have called a “delicate phase” for India – the healthcare system is already exhausted from a year-long battle against the coronavirus.

States have already begun re-introducing restrictions, including curfews and intermittent lockdowns.

Two major cities, Delhi and Mumbai, have also ordered randomised rapid tests at airports, railway stations and crowded areas such as shopping malls.

What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Over 95 percent of Americans killed by COVID-19 have been 50 or older

Coronavirus & COVID-19 Overview: Symptoms, Risks, Prevention, Treatment &  More
  • FDA, CDC urge pause of J&J vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint statement on April 13 recommending that use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine be paused “out of an abundance of caution” while the agencies investigate six cases of a rare and serious type of blood clot, in combination with low levels of platelets, in women in the United States. As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered, so these incidents “appear to be extremely rare,” the statement says. The six women who experienced the clot are between the ages of 18 and 48 and the clots occurred between six and 13 days after they received the J&J shot. The statement urges people who have received the J&J vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after their vaccination to contact their health care provider. The J&J vaccine was created using a different technology than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and the federal agencies are not recommending any pause of those two products. A CDC advisory committee on April 14 voted to keep the pause in place until more information is available.
  • Leaving middle seats open on airplanes can reduce COVID exposure. A new CDC report based on a laboratory model found that when middle seats were left open on airplanes, risk of exposure to coronavirus particles was reduced by 23 to 57 percent, compared with full aircraft occupancy. However, it’s not yet understood whether the extra space could decrease virus transmission and infection. “Based on a data-driven model, approaches to physical distancing, including keeping middle seats vacant, could reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2 on aircraft,” the authors write. Current CDC guidelines recommend delaying travel unless you are fully vaccinated.
  • Infections and hospitalizations continue to rise. The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases continues to rise and is now nearing 70,000 daily cases, according to CDC data. Hospitalizations are also on the rise — up about 7 percent from the previous seven-day period.
  • Drugmaker Regeneron to seek expanded authorization for antibody treatment. A phase 3 trial for Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail, REGEN-COV, found the drug has some preventive benefits. It significantly reduced the risk for COVID-19 infection in individuals living infected persons, the company reported on April 12. In individuals who developed symptomatic infections, the drug, given by injection, was found to shorten the duration of disease. “These data suggest that REGEN-COV can complement widespread vaccination strategies, particularly for those at high risk of infection. Importantly, to date REGEN-COV has been shown in vitro to retain its potency against emerging COVID-19 variants of concern,” said Myron Cohen, M.D., who leads the monoclonal antibody efforts for the NIH-sponsored COVID Prevention Network (CoVPN) and is Director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Regeneron says it plans to submit the data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expand its authorization to include COVID-19 prevention “for appropriate populations.” 
  • Two new CDC reports highlight racial and ethnic disparities during the pandemic. In each region of the country, the proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was highest among Hispanics and Latinos, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. A second study released by the CDC found that Hispanic and American Indian and Alaskan Native individuals were 1.7 times more likely to seek care in emergency departments for COVID-19 from October-December 2020, compared to whites; Black individuals were 1.4 times more likely. “The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportional impact on communities of color is just the most recent and glaring example of health inequities that threaten the health of our nation,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press briefing on April 12. She added, “We must acknowledge the disparities that exist and commit to an equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to those communities that have been hardest hit by the virus.” 
  • CDC declares racism a serious public health threat. The CDC on April 9 declared racism a serious public health threat and highlighted the pandemic’s disproportionate and devastating impact on communities of color. “Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.” The CDC pledged to continue to study the impact of the social determinants of health and make investments in disproportionately affected communities, among other efforts.
  • Coronavirus variants spread in U.S. The highly contagious B.1.1.7. variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is now the most common lineage circulating in the U.S., federal health officials said on April 7. To date, 21,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been caused by the B.1.1.7. variant. 
  • COVID-19 linked to increased risk for neurological and psychiatric disorders. A new, large study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that roughly 1 in 3 COVID-19 survivors experienced a psychiatric or neurological illness six months after being diagnosed with a coronavirus infection. Anxiety and mood disorders were among the most common illnesses recorded, and patients with severe COVID-19 were at greatest risk for developing a psychiatric or neurological condition. “Services need to be configured, and resourced, to deal with this anticipated need,” the study’s authors write. AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health has more information on COVID-19 and brain health
  • Vaccine eligibility wide open by April 19. All American adults, and not just those prioritized based on their risk, should be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, President Joseph Biden said on April 6 at the White House. Biden’s new direction to the states updates his earlier request that they make all U.S. adults eligible for a vaccine by May 1. Biden attributed the ability to move the eligibility date up by two weeks to getting enough vaccine supply, creating more places to get vaccinated and enlisting more people to provide the vaccinations. The administration had already announced that by April 19, 90 percent of all Americans would live within five miles of a vaccination site and 40,000 pharmacies would provide vaccines. 
  • CDC updates guidance on cleaning surfaces. Cleaning surfaces with soap or detergent is enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus in most situations, according to new guidance issued April 5 by the CDC. “Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings, schools and homes where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, within the last 24 hours,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. People can get infected via contaminated surfaces, Walensky said, but the risk is low. Fogging, fumigation and electrostatic spraying is also not recommended and actually carries safety risks, she said.
  • COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death. The CDCreleased a report March 31 stating that the coronavirus was the third leading underlying cause of death in the United States in 2020, after cancer and heart disease. About 3.4 million deaths occurred in the nation last year and the death rate increased by nearly 16 percent from 2019, according to the report. COVID-19 deaths accounted for about 11 percent of U.S. deaths in 2020.
  • Substance abuse added to the list of conditions that increase risk from COVID-19. The CDC on March 29 streamlined its list of high-risk conditions that put someone at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. The agency also added substance use disorders (such as alcohol, opioid or cocaine use disorder) to the list.
SIME Clinical AI Platform could enable early targeted treatment in  critically ill COVID-19 patients – SIME Clinical AI

What are the Brazil, South Africa and UK variants and will vaccines work?

Covid variant first identified in Brazil have been found in the UK, bringing the total number to 12.

Both – one in the West Midlands and one in Haringey, London – were linked with international travel to Brazil.

Some variants, like this one, appear to be more contagious and there are concerns current vaccines may not work as well.

What are these new variants?

There are many thousands of different versions, or variants, of Covid circulating.

Apart from the Brazil variant (also known as P.1), concerns focus on a few:

It’s not unexpected that new variants have developed – all viruses mutate as they make copies of themselves to spread and thrive.

Most of these differences are inconsequential. A few can even be harmful to the virus’s survival. But some can make it more infectious or threatening.

Are the new ones more dangerous?

There is no evidence that any of them cause much more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.

As with the original version, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.

For the UK variant there is some research suggesting it may be associated with a 30% higher risk of death. The evidence is not conclusive, however.

Measures such as washing your hands, keeping your distance from other people and wearing a face covering will still help prevent infections. Because the new variants appear to spread more easily it is important to be extra vigilant.

What’s happening to the virus?

The UK, South Africa and Brazil variants could be much more contagious or easy to catch.

All three have undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells.

As a result, they seem to be better at infecting cells and spreading.

Experts think the UK or “Kent” strain emerged in September and may be up to 70% more transmissible or infectious. The latest research by Public Health England puts it between 30% and 50%.

The South Africa variant emerged in October, and has more potentially important changes in the spike protein. Experts recently found a small number of cases of the UK variant that have one of these more concerning changes too.

It involves a key mutation – called E484K – that may help the virus evade parts of the immune system, called antibodies, that can fight coronavirus based on experience from prior infection or a vaccine.

The Brazil variant emerged in July and has this E484K mutation too.

What are variants and how do they happen?

Will vaccines still work?

Current vaccines were designed around earlier versions of coronavirus, but scientists believe they should still work, although perhaps not quite as well.

A recent study suggests the Brazilian variant may be resisting antibodies in people who should have some immunity because they have caught and recovered from an earlier version of coronavirus.

Early lab results, however, suggest the Pfizer vaccine can protect against the new variants, although slightly less effectively.

Two new coronavirus vaccines that could be approved soon – one from Novavax and another from Janssen – appear to offer some protection too.

Data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team suggests it protects just as well against the new UK variant. It offers less protection against the South Africa variant – although it should still protect against severe illness.

Early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is effective against the South Africa variant, although the immune response may not be as strong or long-lasting.

Variants could emerge in the future that are different again.

Even in the worst case scenario, vaccines could be redesigned and tweaked to be a better match – in a matter of weeks or months, if necessary, say experts.

As with flu, where a new shot is given each year to account for any changes in circulating flu viruses, something similar could happen for coronavirus.

What is being done about it?

More variants will emerge.

Scientists around the world are on the look-out and any important ones will be closely studied and monitored.

Experts are updating coronavirus vaccines. The UK Government has announced a deal with biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants, with a pre-order of 50 million doses.

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Which countries have stopped using AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine?

More than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid fears the shot may have caused some recipients to develop serious blood clots.

Germany, Italy, France, and Spain on Monday became the latest nations to halt the rollout, following moves by Ireland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Norway, and The Netherlands.

Other countries have stopped using certain batches of the vaccine, which is jointly produced with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford.

As fears grew, AstraZeneca said a review of its safety data revealed no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The EU’s medicines regulator – the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also expressed confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

As of March 10, there were 30 reports of blood clots among almost five million people across Europe, according to the EMA.

But reassurances appear to have done little to calm doubts. These are the countries that have suspended use of the vaccine to date:

France

President Emmanuel Macron announced France was suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine at least until Tuesday afternoon when the European Medicine Agency is set to publish an opinion.

“The decision has been made… to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a press conference.

“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent heath authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy.”

Germany

The German government said it is suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine over new reports of dangerous blood clots in connection with the shot.

The health ministry said the decision was taken as a “precaution” and on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation of the cases.

Italy

Italy’s medicines agency said it joined other European nations in blocking the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

The move comes just days after Italy’s AIFA regulator banned the use of a single batch as a precaution, while insisting there was no established link to the alleged side-effects.

“AIFA has decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure pending European Medicines Agency (EMA) rulings,” it said in a statement.

Spain

Spain is suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for at least a fortnight, the health minister said.

“We have decided to temporarily suspend [use of the AstraZeneca vaccine] as a precaution for at least the next two weeks,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters.

Indonesia

Indonesia’s health minister said on March 15 the country would delay administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine due to the reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe.

“To be conservative, the food and drug agency delayed implementation of AstraZeneca [vaccine] as it awaits confirmation from the WHO,” said Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

Indonesia received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme this month and is set to receive some 10 million more in the next two months.

Netherlands

The Netherlands saw 10 cases of noteworthy adverse side effects, a Dutch drug watchdog said on March 15, hours after the government suspended the vaccine.

The Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb said the reported incidents included cases of possible thrombosis or embolisms, but none included a lowered number of platelets, as has been reported in Denmark and Norway.

The vaccine will not be used until at least March 29 as a precaution.

Ireland

Ireland announced on March 14 that it had halted AstraZeneca “out of an abundance of caution” after reports from Norway of serious blood clotting in some recipients there.

Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended the suspension pending further information from the EMA.

“It may be nothing, we may be overreacting and I sincerely hope that in a week’s time that we will have been accused of being overly-cautious,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria on March 12 temporarily halted AstraZeneca after reports that a 57-year-old woman died hours after receiving a shot.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the AstraZeneca rollout would be paused “until all doubts are dispelled and as long as the experts do not give guarantees that it does not pose a risk to the people”.

The woman is believed to have died of heart failure; the autopsy found no blood clots.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on March 12 it was delaying the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing the European countries’ moves.

DRC received 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses via the COVAX scheme on March 2, but is yet to start its inoculation programme.

“We hear that in Europe there are several countries that have suspended the vaccine. We are going to check to know more about this problem,” a spokesperson for Congo’s health ministry told Reuters news agency.

Thailand

Thailand became the first country outside Europe to delay the AstraZeneca vaccine, on March 12 – the day its political leaders were due to have the first shots.

The suspension was brief, however, with the Thai government announcing on March 15 that political leaders would receive a dose of the vaccine the following day.

Romania

Romania temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine – the same one in question in Italy – on March 11. Officials described the move as an “extreme precaution”.

The suspension will last until the EMA completes an inquiry.

Iceland

Iceland on March 11 suspended jabs with the vaccine as it awaited the results of an investigation by the EMA.

Denmark

Denmark on March 11 announced it was halting the use of the AstraZeneca shot for two weeks, following reports of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.

The Danish Medicines Agency later said a 60-year-old Danish woman who died of a blood clot after receiving the vaccine had “highly unusual” symptoms.

The woman had a low number of blood platelets and clots in small and large vessels, as well as bleeding, it said on March 14.

A few similar cases were found in Norway and in the EMA database of drug side effects, the Danish Medicines Agency added.

Norway

Norway also said it was suspending the use of the vaccine on March 11, as a caution amid the reports of possible serious side effects.

On March 13, Norwegian health authorities revealed three health workers – all aged below 50 – who had recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine were being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets.

It is not known if the cases were linked to the vaccine.

“We do not know if the cases are linked to the vaccine,” said Sigurd Hortemo, a senior doctor at the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

Austria

Before Denmark and Norway stopped their rollout, Austria on March 7 paused its use of a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.


COVID-19 disease: 10 facts about the novel coronavirus we did not know a year back

Just as we are about to enter another year, it would be unfair to leave without giving the virus that caused trouble to the entire human race, a special mention.

COVID-19 disease: 10 facts about the novel coronavirus we did not know a year back
  • The entire world is currently facing a global pandemic due to coronavirus
  • Despite the emergence of vaccines, it is necessary to take precautionary measures
  • Here are some facts that you must know about coronavirus

New Delhi: It wouldn’t be incorrect to think of 2020 as a mad rollercoaster ride. If we try to put a finger on it, we could definitely count a lot of things that went wrong this year. However, one major positive consequence of a global pandemic was the rise in awareness about health and fitness during this period which was aided greatly by a lockdown. Most of us realised the importance of physical and mental health and after years of suggestions by medical professionals, some of us also started to admit that mental health and physical health are interrelated. Here are some facts about the novel coronavirus that brought humanity on its toes.

Facts about coronavirus

  1. Symptoms can be respiratory: Although fever and fatigue are among the most common symptoms, cough, laboured breathing are some symptoms too. If the situation aggravated, the affected can also suffer from renal failure, pneumonia and acute respiratory syndrome. This can lead to a patient’s death. 
  2. People can be asymptomatic: A person doesn’t need to display symptoms after being contaminated. It was found that some people who tested positive for COVID-19 displayed negligible or no symptoms of the virus.
  3. Hot drinks don’t make people invincible: Myths about hot drinks being able to kill the virus has been around for quite some time. However, there is no evidence of this bring true. Therefore, drinking hot liquids does not make a person invincible.
  4. Loss of smell is a symptom: Anosmia is the term used to define the loss of smell. It is one of the possible symptoms of the virus along with loss of taste, also known as, ageusia.
  5. Heat does not kill the virus: No evidence has been found about heat killing the virus because the virus can survive in hot conditions that may be 25 degree Celsius or above.
  6. Wearing masks is not a joke: Doctors and medical professionals have been talking about the effectiveness of the masks since ages and they are absolutely right about it. Masks can reduce the risk of getting contaminated to great extents.
  7. Virus variant could be an issue: Ever since a variant of COVID-19 surfaced in the United Kingdom, the world has been bothered by other possible variants that can come up and further cause chaos. 
  8. Seemingly clean surfaces may contain the virus: No surface is ever clean enough. Therefore, make sure that you double-check and disinfect it before you touch it. Avoid touching unknown surfaces with hands and try wearing gloves more often.
  9. Asymptomatic people can be contagious: Asymptomatic people may not exhibit any visible symptoms of the virus. However, they can infect other people just like any other symptomatic person. 
  10. Both young and old people are vulnerable: Due to the variation in recovery rate, people may confuse the severity of the virus among young people. Old people may experience more gradual recovery than young people, however, young people are just as vulnerable as old people.

The U.S. Has Its Own New Worrisome Variants

A new study identifies seven variants with the same concerning mutation. Lebanon, enmeshed in overlapping crises, begins its vaccination program.

A new study identifies seven U.S. virus variants with the same worrying mutation

As Americans anxiously watch the spread of coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain and South Africa, scientists are finding a number of new variants that seem to have originated in the United States — and many of them may pose the same kind of extra-contagious threat.

In a study posted on Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All have gained a mutation at the exact same spot in their genes.

“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a co-author of the new study.

It’s not clear yet whether this shared mutation makes the variants more contagious, but because it appears in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells, the scientists are highly suspicious.

“I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” Dr. Kamil said.

It’s not unusual for different genetic lineages to independently evolve in the same direction. Charles Darwin recognized convergent evolution in animals. Virologists have found that it  happens with viruses too. As the coronavirus branches into new variants, researchers are observing Darwin’s theory of evolution in action every day.

It’s difficult to answer even basic questions about how prevalent the new variants are in the United States because the country sequences genomes from less than 1 percent of coronavirus test samples. The researchers found examples scattered across much of the country, but they can’t tell where they first arose.

It’s also hard to say whether the variants are spreading now because they are more contagious, or for some other reason, like holiday travel or superspreader events.

Scientists say the mutation could plausibly affect how easily the virus gets into human cells. But Jason McLellan, a structural biologist at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the study, cautioned that the way that the coronavirus unleashes its harpoons was still fairly mysterious.

“It’s tough to know what these substitutions are doing,” he said of the mutations. “It really needs to be followed up with some additional experimental data.”

U.S. governors are easing restrictions, but the virus-variant news keeps getting worse.

Robert Jennings taking a saliva sample for a coronavirus test last month in Davis, Calif.
Robert Jennings taking a saliva sample for a coronavirus test last month in Davis, Calif.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Vaccinations are picking up pace. The spread of the coronavirus in the United States has slowed drastically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging K-12 schools to reopen safely and as soon as possible.

But just as states are again lifting mask-wearing mandates and loosening restrictions, experts fear that more contagious variants could undo all that progress.

That threat seems only to grow as researchers learn more. British government scientists now believe the more contagious variant that is ravaging Britain is also “likely” to be deadlier than earlier versions of the virus, according to a document posted on a government website on Friday. An earlier assessment on a smaller scale warned last month that there was a “realistic possibility” the variant was more lethal.

The variant, also known as B.1.1.7, is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, another recent study found.

In line with an earlier warning from the C.D.C., the study predicted that by March the variant could become the dominant source of coronavirus infection in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.

Beyond that, scientists reported on Sunday that they have begun to spot more new variants that seem to have emerged in the U.S. and are concerned that they may spread more readily than earlier versions.

Vaccine distribution is accelerating — the U.S. is now averaging about 1.66 million doses a day, well above the Biden administration’s target of 1.5 million — but B.1.1.7 has a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines, a Public Health England study found this month.

The variant has spread to at least 82 countries, and is being transmitted 35 percent to 45 percent more easily than other variants in the United States, scientists recently estimated. Most people who catch the virus in Britain these days are being infected by that variant.

The British research on B.1.1.7’s lethality did come with caveats, and the reasons for the variant’s apparently elevated death rate are not entirely clear. Some evidence suggests that people infected with the variant may have higher viral loads, a feature that could not only make the virus more contagious but also potentially undermine the effectiveness of certain treatments.

But government scientists were relying on studies that examined a small proportion of overall deaths. They also struggled to account for the presence of underlying illnesses in people infected with the new variant, and for whether the cases originated in nursing homes.

Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said that although “we do need to have a degree of caution” in looking at the findings, “it’s perfectly reasonable to think that this is something serious — I am certainly taking it seriously.”

“It’s pretty clear we have something which is both more transmissible and is more worrying if people become infected,” he said.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, said relaxing restrictions now would be “courting disaster.” She urged Americans to “be extra vigilant” about mask wearing, distancing and avoiding enclosed spaces.

“You don’t want to get any variant,” Dr. Rasmussen said, “but you really don’t want to get B.1.1.7.”

The United States confirmed its first case of the B.1.1.7 variant on Dec. 29. Unlike Britain, it has been conducting little of the genomic sequencing necessary to track the spread of new variants that have caused concern, though the Biden administration has vowed to do more.

On Friday, for the fifth time in six days, the number of new virus cases reported in the United States dipped below 100,000 — far less than the country’s peak of more than 300,000 reported on Jan. 8.As the numbes and hospitalizations has fallen, the Republican governors of Montana, Iowa, North Dakota and Mississippi have recently ended statewide mask-wearing mandates. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has allowed indoor dining to resume at 25 percent capacity, though experts have repeatedly warned that maskless activities, such as eating, in enclosed spaces are high-risk.

Although virus case numbers are moving in the right direction, the loosening of restrictions has unnerved experts like Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University in Virginia.

“Now more than ever, with novel variants, we need to be strategic with these reopening efforts and be slow and not rush things,” she said.Coronavirus Variants and MutationsTracking recent mutations, variants and lineages.

Different COVID-19 Vaccines

Global attitudes : COVID-19 vaccines | Ipsos

Vaccine Types

Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

This web page explains how the body fights infection and how COVID-19 vaccines protect people by producing immunity. It also describes the different types of COVID-19 vaccines that currently are available or are undergoing large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials in the United States.​

Understanding COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines
This web page provides information about mRNA vaccines generally and about COVID-19 vaccines that use this new technology specifically.Understanding Viral Vector COVID-19 VaccinesThis web page provides information about viral vector vaccines generally and about COVID-19 vaccines that use this new technology specifically.

Authorized and Recommended Vaccines

As COVID-19 vaccines are authorized and then recommended for use in the United States, it will be important to understand what is known about each vaccine. CDC will provide information on who is and is not recommended to receive each vaccine and what to expect after vaccination, as well as ingredients, safety, and effectiveness.

Currently, two vaccines are authorized and recommended to prevent COVID-19:

Vaccines in Phase 3 Clinical Trials

As of December 28, 2020, large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials are in progress or being planned for three COVID-19 vaccines in the United States:

  • AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine
  • Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine
  • Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine​

Learn more about U.S. COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, including vaccines in earlier stages of development, by visiting clinicaltrials.govexternal icon.

How are European countries tackling the pandemic?

A women with a mask sitting in front of Louvre in Paris

Most European countries introduced lockdown measures at the start of the year, to fight new peaks in infections and deaths.

While some are starting to ease restrictions, others are extending lockdowns or introducing new regional measures.

France: New lockdown on the French Riviera

France has a curfew between 18:00 and 06:00. Shops and businesses must be closed, and everyone must be at home.

Schools are open with extra testing in place. Bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and ski resorts remain shut.

France closed its borders to all non-EU countries from 31 January, although hauliers are exempt.

In addition to nationwide restrictions, lockdown measures will be put in place in parts of the French Riviera, including Nice and Cannes, from 26 February to 1 March. People will need written permission stating the reason for being out.

Man carrying chairs in Paris
image captionParis bars have been closed since mid-October

Germany: Medical masks in shops and on public transport

Non-essential shops, as well as hairdressers, schools, restaurants, bars and leisure centres remain closed.

Private meetings are limited to one other person from a separate household.

People can no longer wear home-made cloth masks or scarves as face coverings in shops and on public transport. “Clinical masks”, such as single-use surgical masks or filtering face-piece respirators (known as FFP2 masks), are now required.

The measures will be in place until at least 7 March, but schools and hairdressers can open before that date.

On 22 February, primary school children returned to classrooms in more than half of Germany’s 16 states, including in Berlin.

Greece: Different restrictions according to infection levels

A strict lockdown since November helped to contain a new surge in infections and, in January, nurseries and primary schools, as well as shops, were allowed to reopen.

But from late January, in areas with high infection rates – the “red zones”, which include Athens – new lockdown measures were imposed. Non-essential shops, schools, hairdressers and beauty salons, are once again closed.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and Chalkidiki, a curfew from 21:00 to 05:00 is in place during the week and from 18:00 to 05:00 at the weekend, while in other “red zones” the curfew starts at 18:00.

People wearing face masks walk their dog in Athens, Greece
image captionAthens is a “red zone” with strict restrictions

Italy: High school students allowed to return

A nationwide curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 remains in place, travel between Italy’s 20 regions is banned, and mask-wearing is mandatory in public, both indoors and outdoors, across the nation.

However, bars and restaurants in some of Italy’s regions are now again allowed to serve customers at tables and counters until 18:00.

High school students have been allowed to return to normal lessons, although they are divided into groups, and full classroom occupancy is not allowed. Remote learning has been in place since October.

Students and a teacher sit in a classroom in Rome, wearing masks and socially distancing
image captionSchools are open in Italy but there is no return to full classrooms

The Czech Republic: Tighter lockdown

One of the hardest hit countries in the EU, the Czech Republic is tightening its lockdown.

The new measures include closing nurseries and schools for younger children and those with disabilities, a ban on movement between districts and mandatory mass testing for employees of factories and companies that stay open.

Spain: Curfew and other measures to continue

Spain is under a nationwide curfew until early May 2021.

People are only allowed out in that period to go to work, for education, to buy medicine, or care for elderly people or children.

Anyone aged over six must wear a face covering on public transport and in indoor public spaces nationwide. They are also compulsory outdoors in many regions.

Belgium: Lockdown continues

Belgium’s lockdown has been extended until 1 April.

All non-essential travel is banned.

A maximum of one person is allowed to visit your home (always the same person) and, for meetings outside, the rule of four remains in place.

A sign warns people to wear masks in open public areas, in Brussels, Belgium
image captionMasks must be worn everywhere in Belgium

Schools and shops are open but people must shop alone and stay in any shop for no more than 30 minutes.

Masks must be worn everywhere.

Portugal: New lockdown under way

Mainland Portugal entered a new lockdown on 15 January, for the first time since early May.

Remote working is compulsory, non-essential shops and services must close and cafes and restaurants are limited to takeaways and home deliveries only.

Schools are also closed for most children. The lockdown is expected to last until at least 1 March.

People walking by a closed restaurant in Lisbon in January
image captionLockdown in Lisbon

Netherlands: Some easing of lockdown measures

The government has announced the easing of some restrictions.

From 1 March, secondary school pupils will have at least one day’s lessons at school.

Hairdressers and other ‘contact’ professions (apart from sex workers) can reopen from 3 March. Teenagers and adults up to the age of 27 can play team sports outside, and shops can open to customers by appointment.

The 21:00 to 04:30 curfew, which sparked rioting when it was introduced, will remain in place until 15 March.

The government advises against booking any trips abroad until at least 31 March.

Denmark: Gradual lifting of restrictions

The Danish government is to lift some lockdown restrictions. Large parts of the retail sector are to reopen in March, and outdoor activities, such as sports, will resume for a maximum of 25 people.

Older school students are expected to be allowed to return to classrooms in regions with lower infection rates.

Denmark has been in a lockdown since December: all shops and other businesses were closed apart from supermarkets and pharmacies. Schools were open only for younger primary school children.

People ride the metro wearing face masks in Copenhagen, Denmark, 22 August 2020
image captionPassengers wear face masks on the metro in Copenhagen

Ireland: Highest level of restrictions to continue

Ireland returned to a full lockdown at the end of December, after rules on travelling were relaxed over Christmas.

The highest level of restrictions – level five – are currently in place, until at least 5 March.

People have to stay at home except for travel for work, education or other essential reasons, or to exercise within 5km (3.1 miles) of home.

No visitors are allowed in private homes or gardens unless it is for the care of children, the elderly or those who are vulnerable. Weddings are limited to six people and funerals to 10.

All non-essential shops, gyms, pools and leisure facilities are closed. Restaurants, pubs and cafes can provide takeaways and deliveries only.

Sweden: New government coronavirus powers

Sweden had avoided imposing rules in this crisis, but on 10 January a new emergency law came into effect.

It gave the government the power to impose coronavirus-related curbs for the first time.

Until now, the Swedish government has relied mostly on the public following official health recommendations voluntarily.

Current national guidelines are asking passengers to wear face masks on public transport in rush hour, but several regions now recommend them outside the rush hour as well.

There is a ban on alcohol sales after 20:00, and in restaurants a maximum of four people can sit at a table.

No more than eight people are allowed at public gatherings or events.

Further restrictions, such as closure of businesses, are being considered.

Worst place in the world.What went wrong in the Czech Republic?

Czechs enter 2nd lockdown to avoid health system collapse

The Czech Republic, which had been praised for its swift response to COVID-19 in the spring, is now topping global charts of new coronavirus infections and deaths per population. Authorities have failed to control new infections since cases started to increase in the summer. Despite almost three weeks of a near-lockdown, the rate of new cases is declining only slowly. The proportion of tests that are positive remains dangerously high, around 30%.

As infections surge across Europe, the Czech Republic isn’t unique in facing a worrying second wave. It stands out, however, by the delayed response of its government – especially given how fast the new coronavirus spread in the country. On September 18, the chief medical statistician suggested that implementing public health measures on October 1, as opposed to a week earlier, would lead to hundreds of thousands of new cases (and therefore thousands of additional deaths). Yet the government waited for another three full weeks before introducing meaningful restrictions.

Calculated or inadvertent?

Political scientists have recently come up with a useful typology of policy inaction that can help us understand the Czech government’s non-response. It notably distinguishes “calculated inaction” (a product of conscious decisions) and “inadvertent inaction” (a product of blind spots or wishful thinking).

The Czech government hasn’t been forthcoming with explaining its policy choices, making any answers to this question speculative. Both cases will surely be argued in future internal, parliamentary and criminal inquiries, all of which have already been floated.

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Some evidence points to the “inadvertent” camp. An important part of a country’s capacity to design and implement effective policies is how well its administration works with experts. The early months of the pandemic showed just how variable the relationship between experts and the government has been in the Czech Republic.

For example, it wasn’t the Central Epidemiological Committee or the Institute of Health Information and Statistics that convinced the government to declare lockdown in March, but a businessman with no formal ties to the government who created a simple model of COVID-19’s likely spread in the Czech Republic. Alarmed, he secured a meeting with government officials. That was the first time the government had seen any epidemiological predictions. This is perhaps less surprising than it sounds: sociologists have suggested that resource-poor countries, such as the Czech Republic, that have been subject to privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation that hollow out the state have less capable bureaucracies.

Two police officers walk in Prague.
Lockdown in the Czech Republic once more. EPA/Martin Divisek

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, was not immediately convinced of the model’s conclusions but compared daily infection numbers with a printout of the model, and declared lockdown within a matter of days. This version of events was corroborated by Babiš himself at a press conference in two somewhat cryptic sentences: “In March, someone came with a mathematical model and in August someone, the same person, came again… And those who were supposed to come, didn’t.”https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&time=2020-03-01..latest&country=GBR~CZE~BEL~FRA~ESP&region=World&deathsMetric=true&interval=smoothed&perCapita=true&smoothing=7&pickerMetric=new_deaths_per_million&pickerSort=desc

“Those who were supposed to come” is widely thought to refer to the Institute of Health Information and Statistics, which denied that the government had been kept in the dark. It insisted that the government had received daily briefings. In parallel, however, the head of the institute consistently minimised the threat of COVID-19 in the media, despite external experts sounding alarm bells.

Who pays, who benefits?

Those in the “calculated inaction” camp will say the government was given plenty of warning. The first reports that the contact-tracing system was overwhelmed came in late July. The country’s contact-tracing app, developed in collaboration with private sector volunteers, had minimal uptake. Contact tracing was delegated to regional public health authorities. They were understaffed and under-resourced and lacked adequate working processes and infrastructure, including computers and internet connections.

The gravity of the situation was at least partially recognised by the Ministry of Health, which made face masks mandatory indoors, including in schools, in late August. Days later, Babiš overruled this decision. He later explained the lack of restrictions throughout the summer by referring to “the economic perspective” and “societal demand”.https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&time=2020-03-01..latest&country=GBR~CZE~BEL~FRA~ESP&region=World&casesMetric=true&interval=smoothed&perCapita=true&smoothing=7&pickerMetric=new_cases_per_million&pickerSort=desc

The economy plays a key role for decision-makers all around the world but societal demand for normality was perhaps especially understandable in the Czech population, which was relatively untouched by the disease in the first wave. Politicians also downplayed the threat all summer, supported by vocal clinicians without a background in public health – mostly notably a prominent dentist.

Blame it on elections?

By September, though, even sceptical advisers considered new restrictions necessary. But here comes the biggest argument being made by the calculated camp: regional and senate elections took place on October 2 and 3, and a widespread hypothesis suggests the Czech government consciously chose to wait until these were over before renewing restrictions, expecting the measures to be unpopular with its core electorate.

The fact remains that a state of emergency was approved by parliament on September 30 but the first restrictions only came into force on October 9 – and, even then, these were only quite moderate, such as earlier closing hours for pubs.

Whether the government’s decisions came from a place of cynical cost-benefit calculations or overly optimistic wishful thinking, the fallout will be enormous – in human, economic, and for the government, perhaps also electoral, terms.

Before you go…

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