Could the COVID-19 outbreak in China lead to the release of a brand-new coronavirus mutant?
Scientists are concerned but don’t know for sure. It might resemble the current omicron versions that are in circulation there. It might involve several different strains. Or, as they claim, something entirely else.
“The population of China is quite large, and the level of immunity is low. And it appears to be the environment in which we can witness an explosion of a new variation, according to Johns Hopkins University infectious disease expert Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray.
The coronavirus has a chance to change with every new infection, and it is currently growing quickly in China.
The 1.4 billion-person nation has virtually given up on its “zero COVID” objective. Despite high reported overall immunization rates, booster rates are lower, particularly among older persons.
Domestically produced messenger RNA vaccines have shown to be less effective than Western-made vaccinations against serious infection.
Since many were administered more than a year ago, immunity has diminished.
The outcome? An ideal environment for the virus to evolve.
According to Ray, big waves of infection are frequently followed by the emergence of new variations.
The original coronavirus, which originated in China and spread to the rest of the world about three years ago, was replaced by the delta variation, followed by omicron and its offspring, which are still wreaking havoc on the planet today.
Wide existing omicron varieties have been found in China, including BF.7, which is highly skilled at evading immunity and is thought to be the cause of the present spike, according to Dr. Shan-Lu Liu, an expert on viruses at Ohio State University.
According to experts, a population that is only partially immune, like that of China, puts extra pressure on the virus to adapt. The virus “learns to escape the talents that you have and adapt to get past those,” as Ray likened it to a boxer, Ray said.
Whether a novel variety will result in a more severe illness is significantly unknown. According to experts, there is no biological necessity for the virus to get softer with time.
In many regions of the world over the previous six to twelve months, “most of the mildness we’ve observed has been due to cumulative protection, either through vaccine or infection, rather than because the virus has altered” in intensity, Ray said.
The majority of people in China have never had contact with the coronavirus. Compared to messenger RNA vaccines, China’s vaccinations use older technology and produce fewer antibodies.
Given these facts, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, a virus researcher at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, said it is still unclear if the virus will evolve in China in the same way as it did in the rest of the globe when vaccinations were developed. Or, she questioned, “would the evolution’s pattern be entirely different? ”
The World Health Organization recently raised the alarm over reports of serious illness in China. As severe cases rise, hospitals around the Beijing suburbs of Baoding and Langfang run out of staff and beds for intensive care.
According to Xu Wenbo of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at a briefing on Tuesday, China’s plan to track the virus revolves around three city hospitals in each province, where samples will be gathered from walk-in patients who are severely unwell and all those who die every week.
He claimed that epidemics had been caused by 50 of the 130 omicron variants found in China. According to him, a national genetic database is being developed in the nation “to monitor in real time” how various strains are changing and any potential effects on public health.
According to Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, there is currently little information about viral genetic sequencing coming out of China.