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Six responses about the new variant of Covid that has set off alarms | Economy

A new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, called B.1.1.529, has been identified in South Africa and the authorities in that country have warned that it is worrisome. They fear that the new strain will fuel flare-ups in many countries, putting the health of citizens, the protection of vaccines and efforts to reopen economies and borders on the ropes. The earthquake in the markets is epic. This is what is known so far:

1. What is different about this variant?

Scientists say it has a high number of mutations in its spike protein (spike, in lingo), which plays a key role in the entry of the virus into the cells of the body. It is also the goal of vaccines. Researchers are still trying to determine if it is more transmissible or more lethal than previous versions.

2. Where does it come from?

At the moment there is only speculation. A scientist at the London Institute of Genetics said it likely evolved during a chronic infection in an immunosuppressed person, possibly in an untreated HIV / AIDS patient. South Africa has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the highest number in the world. The Beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, can also come from an HIV-infected person.

3. How long is it?

As of Thursday, there were nearly 100 cases detected in South Africa, where it has become the dominant strain among newly infected. The first results of the PCR tests showed that 90% of the 1,100 new cases reported on Wednesday in the South African province that Johannesburg were caused by the new variant, according to Tulio de Oliveira, a professor of bioinformatics who heads genetic sequencing institutions at two universities. South African. In neighboring Botswana, authorities on Monday recorded four cases in people who were fully vaccinated. In Hong Kong, a traveler from South Africa was infected and another case was identified in a quarantined person in a hotel.

This new variant (so far called B.1.1.529) seems to spread very quickly. In less than two weeks it has already dominated all infections after a devastating wave of the Delta variant in South Africa. The new one represents 75% of new infections and will soon be 100%, according to experts.

4 What was the reaction?

The news of the new variant has put markets on the ropes on Friday, and tourism values ​​in Asia, as investors anticipate the negative impact it will have on travel. The yen, normally considered a safe haven asset, rose 0.6% against the dollar, while the South African rand fell to its lowest level in a year.

The UK temporarily banned flights from seven African countries, and other countries followed suit, with Singapore restricting entry to people who have been to South Africa and South Africa and nearby countries in the past 14 days. So has

Australia said it did not rule out tightening border rules for travelers from southern Africa if the situation worsened, while India would rule out travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

5 How worrying is it?

It’s too soon to say that. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that there are fewer than 100 complete genomic sequences of the new variant, which could increase the time needed to study it, as well as the effectiveness of current vaccines against it. Viruses constantly mutate, and changes sometimes make the virus weaker or weaker or more adept at evading antibodies and infecting people.

6. What should we keep in mind next?

The WHO called a meeting on Friday to discuss 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 under the WHO naming scheme, probably the letter “nu”.

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