Your Covid-19 questions answered
Will there likely be more Covid-19 variants in the future?
As the Covid-19 Omicron variant caused panic last week when SA scientists and health experts announced it had been detected in parts of the country, many people wondered whether more variants could be on the horizon.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has warned that more variants could develop.
“We expect new variants to continue to emerge wherever the virus is spreading. Vaccination remains critical to protect those in our communities at high risk of hospitalisation and death, to reduce strain on the health system and to help slow transmission.”
All health and safety protocols should be observed, such as wearing a mask, sanitising and social distancing.
“These non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are still proven to prevent the spread of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses.”
The institute said further studies are being done on the efficacy of vaccines against the Omicron variant. “It is likely that vaccines will still offer high levels of protection against hospitalisation and death.”
Experts at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a global leader in Covid-19 research, said as long as Covid-19 spreads through the population, mutations will continue to happen and variants will evolve.
“New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are detected every week. Most come and go — some persist but don’t become more common, some increase in the population for a while and then fizzle out.
“When a change in the infection pattern first pops up it can be very hard to tell what’s driving the trend — changes to the virus or changes in human behaviour. It is worrisome that similar changes to the spike protein are arising independently on multiple continents,” said Dr Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at university's school of medicine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) monitors many of these variant and classify them variants of interest or concern when alerting countries to potential threats.
“All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no affect on the virus’ properties. However, some changes may affect the virus’s properties, such as how easily it spreads, the associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines, therapeutic medicines, diagnostic tools, or other public health and social measures.
“WHO, in collaboration with partners, expert networks, national authorities, institutions and researchers have been monitoring and assessing the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 since January 2020.
“During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the characterisation of specific variants of interest (VOIs) and variants of concern (VOCs), to prioritise global monitoring and research, and ultimately to inform the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.
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