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The South African, Brazil and UK variant covid cases are under close observation.

The South Africa variant has been found in at least 20 other countries, including the UK and nations are responding in kind with travel restrictions and lockdowns.

On Friday, Mr Johnson said there was “some evidence” the UK variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.

However, the UK government’s chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said there was “a lot of uncertainty around these numbers” but that early evidence suggested the variant could be about 30% more deadly.

Meanwhile, WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya explained that ‘from the beginning of the year, we’ve been tracking this virus and we know that it’s gone through a lot of changes and there’ve been variants before.”

”Now this particular time there have been two particular variants that have been reported to WHO”, she added, referring to the UK and one that was identified in South Africa.

In further explanation, she said that ”they do have one change in common, we call it the N501Y mutation. But otherwise, the two are different. And the reason there’s a concern is that both of these variants were associated with an increase in the number of cases in both of these countries.”

On the matter of whether they are deadlier or faster spreading she explained, ”scientists have now studied this and have found that these variants do tend to spread faster, they’re more transmissible or more infectious. So that’s the worrying part. However, so far, they do not seem to cause more severe illness or a higher death rate or any sort of different clinical manifestations.”

Meanwhile, ”they seem to behave pretty much as the previous viruses were behaving and cause a pretty similar kind of disease.”

Vaccine implications

As for the vaccines and whether these vaccines protect us from these variants, Dr Soumya had the following to say:

”Now for SARS-CoV-2 we’re still learning, we’re still observing and our knowledge is evolving. But at this point in time, most scientists believe that the vaccines that are currently in development and a couple that have been approved should provide protection against this variant and other variants because these vaccines elicit a fairly broad immune response, a host of antibodies and cell-mediated immune responses.”

In other developments

The BBC reported that ”people who have received a Covid-19 vaccine could still pass the virus on to others and should continue following lockdown rules, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.”

The article notes the Sunday Telegraph piece where Prof Jonathan Van-Tam stressed that scientists “do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission”.

He said vaccines offer “hope” but infection rates must come down quickly.

In other news, Mexico’s president is now the latest world leader to become infected with the coronavirus and New Zealand has confirmed the first community coronavirus case in months.

Meanwhile, in the US, Biden officials tried on Sunday to manage public expectations about vaccine distribution, as frustration grows among Americans over long lines, cancelled appointments and other daunting issues.

Dr. Fauci has been trying to reassure the public that the vaccines that are now available would be effective against new variants.

He said that the vaccines could be modified if a particular variant posed a risk, but added that there was no indication yet that modifications would be needed.

Market implications

The market has pulled back from record highs on Wall Street as the risks and unanswered questions about the variant force investors to seek safer havens. 

However, at the start of the week, US S&P 500 futures have started out on the front foot and hare higher by 0.34%.

The three main US indexes closed higher for the week, with the Nasdaq up over 4%