February 9 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Christopher Johnson and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 6:29 a.m. ET, February 10, 2021
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8:06 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

US ramping up Covid-19 genome sequencing to track variants, CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard, Nick Neville and Christina Maxouris

The United States has ramped up its genome sequencing efforts in the hunt for coronavirus variants, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

"Over the last three weeks or so we've increased our sequencing about tenfold," Walensky said during a White House briefing. "So as we look more, we certainly anticipate we might find more" variants.

The US effort in genetic sequencing lags far behind many other developed nations. One analysis ranked the US 33rd in the world for sequences per 1,000 cases of Covid-19.

Scientists search for coronavirus mutations by taking samples of the virus from patients' nasal swabs and analyzing their genetic sequences.

Mutations are changes in the genetic code of a virus that occur naturally over time when an animal or person is infected -- and such mutations can lead to the emergence of new variants.

"We anticipate that we're probably going to be sequencing up to three to four more than we are already sequencing," Walensky said.
"I think once we have more sequencing that's happening, we'll have a better idea as to how many variants there are and what proportion are out there."

Walensky said during the briefing that she was "reluctant" to provide an estimate of how many coronavirus variant cases there could be based on the current data. She also warned that variants could reverse encouraging declines in Covid-19 statistics.

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8:05 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

South Africa Covid-19 variant does not appear to be more transmissible, British health expert says

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy

British analysis does not suggest that the South African coronavirus variant is more transmissible than other variants, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said Monday.

Van-Tam’s analysis was based on “early data on modelling” the variant, he said. 

He contrasted the South Africa variant with what he referred to as the Kent variant -- referred to internationally as the UK variant -- which he said does have a transmissibility advantage. 

Some context: Van-Tam’s comments come a day after South Africa paused its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after early data from a study showed that it offered "minimal protection" against mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant first identified there, known as B.1.351.