Covid Corner Yikes! Looking ahead …

By Dr. Nell Thomas

“Yikes!” That’s what epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant said when he cited a colleague’s data for the Indian variant (B.1.617.2). 

It’s also the attitude displayed by the officials in Singapore and Taiwan as they close schools and restaurants and stand at attention. Which is what we need to be doing in North America right now. And keeping our masks firmly in place.

COVID-19 variants sequenced by the Sanger Institute in England show B.1.617.2 is rapidly increasing – now almost 30 per cent of all sequenced cases in England and anticipated to be the dominant UK strain within days. It is identified in more than 40 countries now. The Indian variant is by far the most transmissible variant yet. It is estimated to be 2.4 times faster than the original strain. Estimates are theoretical, with complex interplay of factors, but the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant is about 60 per cent faster than the original Wuhan strain, and B.1.617.2 is 50-60 per cent faster than B.1.1.7. Singapore is struggling to contain the Indian variant and Vietnam has warned there are only “48 golden hours” to stop it once detected within your borders. These are two countries that have shown impeccable control of infection. 

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Epidemiologists are saying that if we rely only on vaccines and not on masks/social distancing/preventing gatherings (etc.), then even with 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, and even if vaccines are 97 per cent effective, we would only be able to stop the original slowest Wuhan strain. Remember that to stop spread, we need the rate of reproduction (R0, called “R nought,” the number of people each infected person transmits to), to be less than one. The theoretical modelling done by epidemiologists shows that all scenarios with the Variants of Concern will remain with R0 greater than one unless additional safeguards are used. 

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