As the new COVID-19 variant sparks global fear, Arizona health expert weighs in – Community News
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As the new COVID-19 variant sparks global fear, Arizona health expert weighs in

As Arizona and other states face a major spike in COVID-19 cases, health leaders are struggling to assess the potential impact of a new strain of COVID-19.

Related: Omicron variant: what you need to know about the new strain of COVID-19

South African scientists this week identified a new version of the coronavirus that they believe is the cause of a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It’s unclear exactly where the new variant originated, but it was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and can now be seen in travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

It appears to have a large number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’s spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to humans.

Sharon Peacock, who has led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said the data so far suggest the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility”, but said that ” the significance of many of the mutations is not yet known.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described omicron as “the most heavily mutated version of the virus we’ve seen,” including potentially disturbing changes never seen before in the same virus.

On Nov. 26, President Joe Biden commented on his decision to introduce travel restrictions to try and prevent the new variant from reaching the U.S.

Related: US, Canada, EU, Japan restrict travel to South Africa via Omicron variant

“We don’t know much about the variant, except that it is a major concern. It seems to be spreading quickly,” President Biden said. “I spent about half an hour this morning with my COVID team, led by Dr Fauci, and that was the decision we made.”

The travel restrictions will come into effect on Monday, November 29.

Health experts speak

dr. Wassim Ballan, a pediatric infection specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, is keeping a close eye on the variant. He and other researchers say it’s too early to tell the true threat of the virus.

“It may be more transmissible than other variants,” said Dr. ballan.

Meanwhile, Will Humble of the Arizona Public Health Association spoke about the travel restrictions. He says the restrictions are not the right move and countries are just hesitant to report their data.

“Frankly, these travel restrictions are not a long-term solution, or even a very good medium-term solution,” Humble said. “In my opinion, these are just a reflex response.”

Humble says more information is needed before major decisions like travel restrictions are put in place.

The variant is so new, there isn’t much research out there, other than that it’s highly transmissible and can potentially evade the immunity people have built up to this point.

“The main thing we haven’t done is a police switch, which would be to force both Moderna and Pfizer to share their intellectual property so other countries can make their vaccines,” Humble said.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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