There is no evidence that the new coronavirus strains are more dangerous, belying President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that they are.
In his weekly televised briefing on the COVID-19 on Jan. 4, Duterte warned that the pandemic has taken a “dangerous turn” because SARS-CoV-2 has mutated:
Alam mo itong pandemic has turned into another — has made another dangerous turn. May bagong strain ang tawag niyan I think is “mutation”, nag-mutate, nagbago sila. Nakakuha yata ng depensa ang mga microbes na ito and itong bagong strain ngayon is they say more dangerous. It can cause a rapid mutations…— mankind is in the bind looking for the new vaccine of the new strain.
(You know, the pandemic has turned into another – has made another dangerous turn. There is a new strain which I think is called “mutation.” (The virus) has mutated, it has changed. It seems to have acquired the defense of the microbes, and this new strain now is they say more dangerous. It can cause rapid mutations… mankind is in the bind looking for the new vaccine of the new strain)
Duterte brought up the new strains in his talk as he defended the inoculation of members of the Presidential Security Group with the unregistered vaccine from China's Sinopharm and ordered them to "shut up" if summoned to a congressional inquiry.
There are several new SARS-CoV-2 strains, including B117 detected in England in September and 501.V2 that emerged in South Africa in October.
As of Dec. 31, the UK strain has been reported in 31 other countries and the South African strain in four other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
But neither B117 nor 501.V2 is more dangerous than the initial virus strain that started in China in late 2019 and other subsequent strains, the WHO said.
The WHO said findings suggest that UK’s B117 is more infectious. But it added:
(P)reliminary analyses also indicate that there is no change in disease severity (as measured by length of hospitalization and 28-day case fatality), or occurrence of reinfection between variant cases compared to other SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the United Kingdom.
On the South African strain, WHO said this is different from the UK variant with preliminary studies suggesting “potential for increased transmissibility” because it is associated with a higher viral load.
But like the UK strain, the WHO said of 501.V2 is not yet known to be more serious:
(A)t this stage, there is no clear evidence of the new variant being associated with more severe disease or worse outcomes.
In WHO's Dec. 21 media briefing, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said there is currently no proof that the new strains are deadlier:
In the past few days, there have been reports of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected. The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.
The UK government has said the new strain—officially known as “VUI–202012/01” or the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020—is up to 70% more transmissible but has not been shown to be more virulent.
Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, said:
We currently have no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality, but we are continuing investigations to understand this better.
South Africa’s Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize also said last month there is no evidence that the 501.V2 is more contagious than the UK variant. He added:
There is also no evidence that the 501.V2 causes more severe disease or in- creased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world.
Public Health England said there is likewise no evidence to suggest that Pfizer's vaccine “would not protect people” against the new strain. It said further laboratory work is being undertaken.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also said there is still not enough information to determine if the new strains pose a risk to vaccine match and effectiveness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a Dec. 30 briefing that “experts believe our current vaccines will be effective against these strains.”
Pfizer-Biontech’s and Moderna’s vaccines are now authorized in the U.S.
Even as SARS-CoV-2, like other viruses, is expected to further mutate over time and there is as yet no evidence to show its new strains to be more serious, the WHO has urged governments to strengthen existing disease control activities, as well as adjust public health and social measures as needed to reduce transmission of the virus.
It also said the public should continue to take precautions such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.
According to Public Health England:
The way to control this virus is the same, whatever the variant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, December 30). Transcript: CDC update on COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/t1230-cdc-update-covid-19.html
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (2020, December 29). Risk related to spread of new SARSCoV-2 variants of concern in the EU/EEA. Retrieved from https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-risk-related-to-spread-of-new-SARS-CoV-2-variants-EU-EEA.pdf
Knapton, S. (2021, January 4). New Covid strain: How dangerous is it, and could it hamper a vaccine? Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/01/04/new-covid-strain-what-coronavirus-variant-symptoms-where-uk-dangerous/
National Institute for Communicable Diseases. (2020, December 24). No evidence that 501.v2 variant is more dangerous than UK variant. Retrieved from https://www.nicd.ac.za/no-evidence-that-501-v2-variant-is-more-dangerous-than-uk-variant/
NERVTAG meeting on SARS-CoV-2 variant under investigation VUI-202012/01. (2020, December 18). Retrieved from https://khub.net/documents/135939561/338928724/SARS-CoV-2+variant+under+investigation%2C+meeting+minutes.pdf/962e866b-161f-2fd5-1030-32b6ab467896?t=1608470511452
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Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2021, January 4). Retrieved from https://pcoo.gov.ph/presidential-speech/talk-to-the-people-of-president-rodrigo-roa-duterte-on-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-38/
WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 21 December 2020. (2020, December 21). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---21-december-2020
World Health Organization. (2020, December31). SARS-CoV-2 variants. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/csr/don/31-december-2020-sars-cov2-variants/en/