Based on the latest round of assessments, B.1.621 was classified as a VOI on 30 August 2021 and given the WHO label “Mu”. This includes the descendent Pango lineage B.1.621.1. This variant is known as 21H in Nextstrain nomenclature. The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape. Preliminary data presented to the Virus Evolution Working Group show a reduction in neutralization capacity of convalescent and vaccinee sera similar to that seen for the Beta variant, but this needs to be confirmed by further studies.
Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe. As of 29 August, over 4500 sequences (3794 sequences of B.1.621 and 856 sequences of B.1.621.1) have been uploaded to GISAID from 39 countries. Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1%, the prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) has consistently increased. The reported prevalence should be interpreted with due consideration of sequencing capacities and timeliness of sharing of sequences, both of which vary between countries. More studies are required to understand the phenotypic and clinical characteristics of this variant. The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes.
In this study, we reported the emergence and spread of the novel B.1.621 lineage of SARS-CoV-2, a new VOI with the insertion 146N and several amino acid substitutions in the Spike protein (T95I,Y144T, Y145S, R346K, E484K, N501Y and P681H). Although B.1.621 does not meet all of the VOC classification criteria so far, the set of mutations gathered the Spike protein could confer a synergistic impact on attributes such as reduction of vaccine-induced protection from severe disease, increased transmission and disease severity
During the past two weeks, 7 residents of a care home near Zaventem in Belgium have died after having contracted the B.1.621 variant of coronavirus first identified in Colombia, South America. All those that have died at the care home had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
On 16th July, two coronavirus infections were confirmed at the Ter Burg care home. As soon as the first infections were confirmed those in charge at the home put the afflicted section under quarantine. A total of 20 residents tested positive. As measures had been taken the outbreak was contained in the section of the home where it had started.
Nevertheless, 7 of the 28 residents with advanced dementia have passed away. Some of these were in poor physical health to start with. One of them was terminally and another was being given palliative care. However, some of those that died were in relatively good physical health.
Interestingly, the UK PHE have just released a threat assessment for B.1.621, reprinted below, and there are some recent posts from their Twitter account.
This variant was blamed for the rapid growth in Colombia 🇨🇴 in June/July
(at that time Alpha was dominant, almost no Delta) pic.twitter.com/EXwut4WgqL
— Meaghan Kall (@kallmemeg) August 6, 2021
In a possibly related development, Belgium has decided to lift its ban on travel from countries with high levels of coronavirus infections
Europe has seen major changes in coronavirus case rates over the last two months. In many areas of Europe covid case rates have dropped sufficiently to allow restrictions to be eased, but there are notable exceptions. The Covid-19 rate in Spain now appears to be as bad, if not worse, than two months ago, and the Netherlands has seen a dramatic increase in numbers recently.
In the case of both Spain and the Netherlands, the rates increased following the decision to unlock their countries too quickly, and in both cases those decisions have had to reversed within weeks. Greece too appears to be seeing a new wave, and these areas now represent the largest threat to Europe’s strategy to keeping infection rates down.
Researchers in Belgium report on the case of a 90-year-old woman who was simultaneously infected with two different variants of concern (VOCs) of COVID-19, in a Case Report being presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) held online this year.
On March 3 2021, the woman, whose medical history was unremarkable, was admitted to the OLV Hospital in the Belgian city of Aalst after a spate of falls. She tested positive for COVID-19 on the same day. She lived alone and received nursing care at home, and had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Initially, there were no signs of respiratory distress and the patient had good oxygen saturation. However, she developed rapidly worsening respiratory symptoms, and died five days later.
When the patient’s respiratory sample was tested for VOCs with PCR, they discovered that she had been infected by two different strains of the virus–one which originated in the UK, known as B.1.1.7 (Alpha), and another that was first detected in South Africa (B.1.351; Beta).
The presence of both strains was confirmed by PCR on a second respiratory sample, by sequencing of the S-gene and by whole genome sequencing.
“Last month, Gytis Dudas was tracking a concerning new coronavirus variant that had triggered an outbreak of COVID-19 in his native Lithuania and appeared sporadically elsewhere in Europe and in the United States. Exploring an international database of coronavirus genomes, Dudas found a crucial clue: One sample of the new variant came from a person who had recently flown to France from Cameroon. A collaborator, Guy Baele of KU Leuven, soon identified six more sequences from people in Europe who had traveled in Cameroon. But then their quest to pinpoint the variant’s origins hit a wall: Cameroon had uploaded a total of only 48 genomes to the global sequence repository, called GISAID. None included the variant”
B.1.620 is also listed as a Variant of Interest by the ECDC:
Five residents of a care home in Borsbeek in Antwerp province have been infected with the so-called Indian variants of Covid-19, according to the Flemish Agency for Health and Care. One of those affected has died. All of the home’s residents have been fully vaccinated.
In three of the cases involved in the new outbreak, the Indian variant has been confirmed, and it is supposed the same goes for the other two. One has since died, and another is in hospital.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that democratic governments can make vaccinations obligatory, in a landmark judgement rejecting complaints brought by Czech families penalised for refusing compulsory jabs for their children.
“The… measures could be regarded as being ‘necessary in a democratic society'” the court ruled, saying that the Czech health policy was consistent with the “best interests” of children.
Our opinion: ** Is there an easier or quicker way of antagonising parents in the middle of a global viral pandemic than encouraging mandatory vaccinations? We can’t think of one. Expect severe blowback **
254 new Covid-19 patients were being hospitalised in Belgium each day on average between 25 and 31 March. This number is 14 percent up on the week.
There were 2,929 Covid-19 patients in Belgian hospitals according to the latest available figures (from last Tuesday), the highest number since 10 December. 755 (+17) are in intensive care units, 435 (+6) are on ventilators. Some 95 percent of all available IC beds are taken now, with experts warning that “choices will have to be made”.
The number of new cases has risen to 4,827 per day, a 15 percent rise on the week.
More than half of students suffered from anxiety and/or depression during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, with one in ten suffering so badly they were unable to take care of their own basic needs.
Of the sample, fully 50% reported problems of anxiety, while depression was experienced by 55%. Even the freshest of freshers will have started their time in higher education in the autumn of 2019, when the coronavirus was not even a cloud on the horizon, and so all will have had some experience of student life before the curtain came down, and brought an end to what should have been a fun and almost care-free period in a young person’s life.
As it turns out, students more advanced into their academic career suffered more than their juniors.
Peter Piot is director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His CV describes him as the discoverer of the Ebola virus and a past expert for the United Nations on the Aids virus HIV.
Last year Piot succumbed to SARS-CoV-2 himself. He survived, although it took six months to recover and left behind heart problems.
“I believe this virus becomes endemic even after vaccination of the majority of the population,” he told the GVA. “Thanks to the vaccines, few people will die or end up in hospital unless very dangerous variants emerge regularly that make the vaccines less effective. Also, let us not forget that we have been able to eradicate only one virus that affects humans: smallpox.”
“The world will not be quite the same after this crisis. We are probably going to have outbreaks now and then, maybe every winter.”
The number of patients being treated for Covid in intensive care in Belgium has doubled in just over a month. One in four Covid patients in hospital is now in critical care.
On average in the week to 24 March 222 patients with Covid were hospitalised each day. The figure is up 26% on the week. On Wednesday 251 (-30 on the day) patients were hospitalised. 241 (+5) were discharged.
2,452 (+51) patients are currently in hospital with Covid. 637 (+31) are in intensive care. 332 (+7) are on a ventilator. In the week to 21 March on average 26 deaths a day were linked to Covid. The figure is up 6.4% on the week.
Shopping at non-essential stores only with an appointment. Large stores e.g. Ikea will have to limit numbers to 50. Outdoors no more than four people will once again be able to gather together instead of 10 at present. Contact professionals like barbers, hairdressers and beauticians will have to close. All measures start Saturday and apply for the next four weeks.
Kindergartens will remain open, but starting Monday primary and secondary schools will close. Exams that are planned will be able to go ahead. Schools are supposed to reopen after the Easter break.
The ban on non-essential travel abroad remains in force. Border checks are being stepped up during the Easter break.
The government is also seeking greater compliance with mandatory homeworking for all who can do this. Extra checks are promised.
“Wheezing, chest or stomach pain, swelling or coldness in an arm or leg, severe headache or worsening or blurred vision after vaccination, persistent bleeding, small multiple bruises, reddish or purplish spots or blisters of blood under the skin” – if you have these symptoms after vaccination against Covid with AstraZeneca serum seek medical help immediately and report that you have recently been vaccinated.