As we are aware, stock markets around the world saw a major crash on December 21 (Monday). After witnessing a very impressive bull run over the past few weeks, the Nifty50 Index fell by 432.15 points (or 3.14%) on a single day! The major reason behind such an absolute bloodbath in the markets has been linked to the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in the United Kingdom. People all around the world have entered into a panic mode. Certain governments have also banned international flights to limit the spread of the virus. It has turned out to be a major cause of concern for all of us. 

Let us understand the specific details surrounding the new Covid-19 strain, and find out what experts have stated about it. 

Important Facts on the New Strain of Covid-19

Viruses keep mutating and changing their behaviour as time passes. Here are specific details regarding the new variant/strain of coronavirus that poses a threat:

  • The United Kingdom has identified a fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus, which is more than 70% more transmissible than existing strains. It has been termed as “B.1.1.7”. Three major factors are causing concern over the new variant:
    1. The new strain is said to spread faster than the other versions and is 70% more infectious.
    2. It is the most common version of the virus in the UK. It is also rapidly replacing other versions of the virus.
    3. There have been changes to the spike protein of the virus, which plays a key role in unlocking the doorway to the body’s cells.
  • The new Covid-19 variant is believed to have been first detected in September. By November, around a quarter of cases in London were of the new variant. And, by mid-December, nearly two-thirds of cases in London were of the new virus. Over the last week, the number of cases in London doubled, with at least 60% of the infections being from this strain.
  • This new strain was identified by the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium. It is a partnership of the UK’s four public health agencies, as well as the Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions. The group undertakes random genetic sequencing of positive coronavirus samples around the UK.
  • The most likely explanation is that the variant has emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus. Instead, their body became a breeding ground for the virus to mutate.
  • There is no proper evidence that suggests that this new strain or variant is more dangerous. However, the increase in the rate of transmission means more people could get infected than before. This leads to an added burden on an already strained healthcare system. 
  • It has been found that this new strain has been spread from the UK to Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, and even India.
  • It has been found that vaccines produce antibodies against many regions in the spike protein. Spike proteins are what allows the coronavirus to enter into human cells. So, it is unlikely that this change would make the approved Covid-19 vaccine less effective.

“With this variant, there is no evidence that it will evade the vaccination or a human immune response. But if there is an instance of vaccine failure or reinfection then that case should be treated as high priority for genetic sequencing.” – Sharon Peacock, Director of COG-UK. 

What is happening in UK?

On December 20 (Sunday), the UK alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) and stated that the new Covid-19 variant appears to be accelerating the spread of Covid-19. While UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tier-4 restrictions for London and Southern England, several countries like Italy and Belgium have suspended incoming travel from Britain. Under the Tier-4 restrictions, mixing of households will not be allowed- except under very limited conditions outside in public places. Travel in and out of Tier 4 areas won’t be allowed unless it is an emergency.

The following graph shows the spike in Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom (as of December 21):

Source: The New York Times

International Developments

On December 21, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has halted all international flights for a week and has taken several precautions against the new Covid-19 strain. Countries such as Poland, Germany, France, Ireland, Canada, and around 15 others have also suspended all flights from the UK. India has also taken a proactive step and has banned all flights from the UK till December 31.

On the same day, the German Health Minister, Jens Spahn, stated that the vaccines are effective against the new coronavirus strain. This is very promising news indeed. 

We also received another shocking update on December 22. Five out of 266 passengers and crew members of a flight which arrived at Delhi from London have tested positive for Covid-19. Experts also believe that the new variant of coronavirus is already spreading across India. 

Conclusion

The news related to vaccine approvals had lifted our spirits, and in turn, the stock markets. The United States and UK governments have already launched a massive vaccination drive in their respective countries. Despite such positive news, the number of coronavirus cases is surging all around the world. The second wave of Covid-19 is surely upon us, and countries are gearing up to make sure that the situation is contained. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are confident about tackling this new strain. The general global sentiment has returned to the confidence that we can beat the pandemic.

Keeping the markets aside, the new variant of Covid-19 poses a threat to all of humanity. India has the second-highest infection count in the world. This is the time to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. As the Christmas season is upon us, we need to refrain from moving around and stop the spread of the virus. Will this lead to a huge surge in global cases and stress the healthcare sectors? Will India and other countries return to strict lockdowns? We will have to patiently wait and watch.

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