The Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) reported 3,001 new infections and 58 laboratory-confirmed deaths. Since Wednesday is the day with the most cases, it looks good at first. However, the Federal Council has also decided to take more severe measures. The reason is the variant of the B.1.1.7 virus, mutated in Great Britain, which has been crossing the British island for several weeks.
According to Federal Councilor Alain Berset, the mutated coronavirus is 50 to 70% more contagious than the conventional variant. This is confirmed by Professor Richard Neher, who analyzes viruses at the Biozentrum at the University of Basel. “The B.1.1.7 variant now seems to be spreading in Ireland and Denmark and the evidence for faster transmission is increasing,” the virus researcher explains.
Fear of an explosion of the mutated variant
In Switzerland, the number of people infected with this variant is currently doubling every week. Although few people are still affected, the Federal Council fears a possible explosion of this variant of the virus due to the confirmed risk of higher infection, which, with a higher number of cases, could lead to more hospitalizations and more deaths. death.
The mutated virus appears to be on a European tour. The Kitzbühel ski resort reported on Wednesday that at least 17 people were infected with the corona virus mutation. The mutation was discovered in a residential complex that houses 38 ski instructors from Great Britain who are completing a refresher course in Kitzbühel.
No wonder many people in Austria are now wondering why English ski instructors were allowed in. Opposition Neos party mocks the government’s priority setting: “Education: UK ski instructors yes, Austrian students no”, Neos tweeted, as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” wrote.
Wengen as a small mutant hotspot
In Switzerland, too, Wengen, a ski resort, has become a small mutant hotspot, which is why the Lauberhorn race for the coming weekend had to be canceled. In Wengen, too, the source of the infection is a single UK customer who, working as a super spreader, infected 27 other hotel guests and employees in a hotel. 70 infected people have now been reported in Wengen.
The coronavirus had been very stable for a long time, as Richard Neher has repeatedly confirmed in recent months. You should know that a virus always mutates a little. “During the first few months of the pandemic, a new mutation built up in the genomes of the virus on average every two weeks or so,” says Neher.
With the new variant, Basel researchers are now observing around ten more mutations than one would expect. “Many of these mutations can be seen at important positions in the coronavirus spike protein,” Neher explains, which means this variant is therefore likely to spread better. “Now these variants seem to be growing at the normal rate of two mutations per month,” Neher says, still as before.
In general, it is often said that the more contagious a virus, the less dangerous it is. The Ebola virus, for example, is fatal very quickly, but very little contagious. But to conclude that the mutated corona virus is less dangerous than the old variant would be wrong.
says the Basel virus researcher. At least a study from Britain shows that serious illness is not more common. In the study, which has not yet been confirmed, fewer infected people required hospitalization than in the comparison group with normal coronavirus. No difference was found in mortality either.
Corona vaccines also work against mutated viruses
Niher has no good news regarding the effectiveness of newly developed vaccines. There is data that indicates that corona vaccines still work, says Neher. But it will take weeks and months for enough people to be vaccinated and therefore also immune to the mutated coronavirus.
This is why Basel epidemiologist Marcel Tanner from the Covid-19 working group says that the virus’s mutation time doubling in one week makes it necessary to tighten measures now. It is only a question of reducing the mobility of people and the opportunities for contact. Like the infectious disease specialists at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Switzerland, he believes that schools should not be closed.
“It’s not just about controlling infections, it’s also about weighing interests,” says Tanner. A pickle can be closed because you have the opportunity to compensate for the financial damage. A damage in the education of children cannot be repaired, it has lasting social consequences. In addition, the Zurich study “Ciao” showed that there was hardly any epidemic in schools. In schools: “Last closing, first opening”, says Marcel Tanner.