For almost a year now, omicron and its lineages and sub-lineages have dominated the global COVID-19 variant map
A new variant of COVID-19 termed BF.7, an alias for B.1.1.5184.108.40.206.7, is slowly but surely gaining a foothold in several countries. Most cases for this variant have been reported from Belgium, accounting for 25 per cent of the global share.
Denmark, Germany and France have recorded 10 per cent each of the global caseload of this variant, according to data from cov-lineages.org, a COVID data repository.
Its presence has doubled rapidly from just 0.8 per cent to 1.7 per cent in the last two weeks in the US, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.
It remains to be seen whether BF.7 will behave any differently in terms of severity or its immunity-evading characteristic. However, it does have changes in its spike protein which may give it a growth advantage, allowing it to infect people even more quickly.
For almost a year now, omicron and its lineages and sub-lineages have dominated the global COVID-19 variant map. This is the first time since the pandemic’s start that a variant of concern and its offsprings have circulated for so long.
Does this signal anything about where the pandemic is headed?
US President Joe Biden had recently stated in an interview that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. This was when the country was averaging 500 deaths daily and the world witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths daily, according to Our World in Data.
The end is near, but we are not there yet, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general, September 14.
This is the most hopeful the global health body has been since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020.
“We expect there to be future waves of infections, potentially at different time points throughout the world caused by different sub variants of omicron or even different variants of concern,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s senior epidemiologist.
How the omicron branch of the SARS-CoV-2 is expanding may give us some idea about what the future may look like.
“This is the first time we’ve seen variant evolution go so far down one path away from the original 2019 virus,” tweeted Jeffrey Barrett, chief scientific officer at Finland-based company Nightingale Health.
Alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omicron were unrelated evolutionary events from the same starting point. But all these recent sub-variants build on omicron, Barrett said.
However, it must be noted scientists have been wrong about how COVID-19 would behave in the past. The virus has constantly outsmarted experts and that may continue to do so.
Variant-specific boosters offer some hope as countries face a surge in cases as fall and winter inches closer.
However, uptake of even the first booster of the original vaccine remains low — at just 31 per cent globally, according to Our World in Data.
Primary vaccination rates remain abysmal in low-income countries, at just 19 per cent, compared to almost 75 per cent in high-income countries, according to the WHO.
The testing capacity of low-income countries is still poor at just 2/100k population. At the same time, the capacity of lower-middle income countries are at 22/100k population. This is far from the goal of 100/100k testing rate.
“Without adequate testing and sequencing, the world is blind to the evolution of the virus and potential new variants,” Mustaqeem De Gama, director of legal international trade at South Africa’s department of trade, industry and competition, said in a WHO statement.
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