“We don’t know why it has been so successful in [Brazil]” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist.
Agadir – As new variants of COVID-19 have been detected across the globe, scientists are particularly concerned about one called P.1, which emerged in early December 2020 in Brazil.
By mid-January, P.1 had caused a massive resurgence in infections across Manaus, a Brazillian city of 2 million people. On January 25, the US’ first confirmed case of the variant was detected in Minnesota.
Speaking to NPR, Jeremy Luban, a virus expert at the University of Massachusetts, explained that the “most concerning of all the things that I’ve heard so far, it’s the fact that they are reporting a sudden increase in cases in Manaus, Brazil… Manaus already had 75% of people infected [in the spring of last year].”
There are two aspects of P.1 that experts find concerning. One is the new variant’s incredibly rapid spread in Brazil. The second is that the variant comes with a particularly dangerous set of mutations.
While it took the UK variant three months to cause a massive resurgence of cases in the European country, the Brazilian variant only needed one month to overrun the city of Manaus.
Scientists are trying to understand what makes P.1 so dangerous.
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According to one study, the population of Manaus should have reached herd immunity by now. However, the city is seeing an even bigger resurgence of the virus today, raising concerns among experts.
The alarming new variant has led some specialists — and policy makers — to question whether antibodies created by other strains of COVID-19 are actually effective against the P.1 variant.
Testing of the new variant from South Africa showed that the strain was potentially capable of evading existing antibodies. While scientists have not done similar testing on the P.1 variant, they have detected two mutations that can reduce antibody binding.
According to William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the new variant “is the object of very, very serious attention and concern among epidemiologists. We don’t know why it has been so successful in Manaus.”
Morocco is to carry out the testing of 30,000 students in order to “estimate” the level of the spread of COVID-19 among younger Moroccans, following the appearance of new variants.
Professor Ravi Gupta, a virus expert, does not think that “there’s going to be a single solution that just comes along in 2021 that says, ‘That’s it, we’re done.’ The coronavirus is going to cause a long-term disruption.”