According to the British Financial Times on January 13, a world-renowned infectious disease expert warned that highly contagious new variants of the new crown virus would appear more frequently and cause further infections, such as those in the United Kingdom and South Africa, which may overwhelm local hospitals.
Salim Abdul Karim, chairman of the South Africa’s New Coronary Pneumonia Ministerial Advisory Committee, also said that it was still difficult to know the extent to which existing vaccines could provide immunity against new variants.
Scientists all over the world were disturbed by the rapid spread of the 501.v2 variant of the new coronavirus, which was first discovered in South Africa, and the equivalent B.1.1.7 variant, which has led to a recent surge in cases in the UK. Recently, other variants have appeared in Brazil and Japan.
Karim explained that the virus will evolve when it infects people with partial immunity to avoid being recognized by antibodies. He said in an interview: “As we begin vaccination and more people are infected, we will see it more common than in 2020.”
Karim also said that “biological evidence shows that the 501.v2 variant binds faster and more tightly to human cells”, which supported the epidemiological finding of enhanced virus transmission.
Since its emergence in humans at the end of 2019, the new coronavirus that causes new coronary pneumonia has mutated once or twice a month on average. However, the variants found in South Africa and the United Kingdom have mutations at about 20 sites.
More mutations will lead to more extensive changes in the behavior of the virus. The virus variants originating in the United Kingdom and South Africa are both about 50% more infectious than the previous version, although neither is believed to cause more severe symptoms.
Another question is how these variants interact with the human immune system, especially whether they will reduce the effectiveness of the new coronavirus vaccine. When talking about the 501.v2 variant, Karim said: “We will get the answer in the next two weeks or so, but we don’t know yet.”
A simulation study conducted by scientists from Emory University and Pennsylvania State University was published in the journal Science on the 12th. The study proposed that the evolutionary path of the new coronavirus will eventually evolve a less dangerous “endemic” virus, joining the ranks of other coronaviruses that cause mild cold symptoms and are currently spreading among humans.