Fear over new coronavirus mutations, is this the the calm before the storm?"
The South African variant of the coronavirus has also been identified in the Netherlands, confirmed the public health institute RIVM on Thursday. The British variant is also spreading in the country. On Wednesday, the tally was at fifty people who contracted the mutated version.
Due to the new strain, the situation in London is out of control. The virus appears to be 60 to 70 percent more contagious than the old variant. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has declared a state of emergency. One in 30 people in London has coronavirus. In some parts of the city, this number is as high as one in 15. London hospitals now have more patients than during the peak in April. Is the Netherlands awaiting the same fate?
“The question is whether we are here in the calm before the storm,” said IC doctor and chairman of the Dutch Association for Intensive Care, Diederik Gommers, on Friday. “The Outbreak Management Team met today, and there was a lot of debate. The numbers show that the lockdown has an effect, but the uncertainty of the British variant makes it a very difficult discussion,” said Gommers.
On Thursday, Gommers spoke to his colleagues in England who warned, “Prepare yourself, because you don’t know what is coming your way.” In reaction, Gommers said that “for me, the image came back from the end of February, when we heard the Italians shout. That really shocked me.”
We now see several clusters of infections with the new variant in the Netherlands, says Gommers. “Fortunately, it concerns small numbers, but that is how it started in England. Last week, we saw that number of infections go down, and now suddenly increase quite sharply. One then wonders whether this is the beginning of the English mutant? We don’t know yet.”
Fear over South African variant
Much is still unclear about the British variant. Meanwhile, we also know very little about the South African mutation. “Viruses often mutate, and the coronavirus is now doing that too,” says head of the National Coordination for Infectious Disease Control of the RIVM, Aura Timen. “Both the British and South African variants are suspected to be more contagious. We have no evidence that the mutations also show a more serious disease trajectory.”
According to Timen, we need to prepare for more variants, in addition to the British and the South African. “It is to be expected that different variants will emerge in the near future. What is important is that the lockdown measures have proven to be effective. The arrival of these new variants makes the need for these measures even greater. We have seen the havoc that the British variant has caused in the UK, so we must do everything we can to prevent the virus from spreading further in the Netherlands,” added Timen.
Vaccines seem to work
It is still being investigated how the virus will react to the current vaccines. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer said on Friday that its vaccine also appears to work against the so-called N501Y mutation in the South African and British strain, as well as 15 other mutations.
Anke Huckriede, professor of vaccinology at the University Medical Center Groningen, confirms this. “They tested for a particular mutation on the spike protein that the virus uses to contact cells, the first step in the infection process. The vaccine appears to work against that.”
This comes as good news as the situation among healthcare workers remains dire. The vaccination process is currently the most important ray of hope. The national network of acute care confirmed on Friday that 26,000 acute care workers in hospitals have now been vaccinated.