Scientists predict a quiet Christmas because BQ.1.1 does not seem so dangerous

  • The drop in covid cases in the countries where this variant is growing the most “bodes well for the Christmas season,” says Topol

  • “We may not face a big wave” of covid in December, as expected because it is a more elusive variant

  • In Spain, BQ.1.1. is already behind a third of what has been sequenced: its presence is increasing, but the incidence is falling

With the data you leave the current evolution, both of the virus and of infections, seems that it is not going to be so fierce how they painted it With the statistics in hand, it is seen that in countries where BQ.1.1 is already the majority, cases have decreased of covid in recent weeks.

In Spain, the incidence has also decreased for 15 days, despite the fact that the presence of the new variant has been increasing. Why? Scientists try to find an explanation for all this.

Quiet Christmas?

The data, in any case, invite optimism (always with caution, considering that the virus has been unpredictable throughout the pandemic). Some scientists point out that the drop in infections in countries where the new variant is growing is good news, and can allow us to enjoy a peaceful Christmas. The American investigator Eric Topol, one of the reference scientists in the pandemichas been one of the first to highlight it.

“The threat of BQ.1.1 fades in France (the reference) and it bodes well for the holiday season, we may not be facing a big wave“, Said the American scientist on his Twitter account.

Along the same lines, the Epidemiologist Quique Bassat. “Yes, are good news. I didn’t expect it, really. I was expecting transmission to increase a little bit without major repercussions on the disease. But is that It’s not even going up in transmission, it looks like in some places it’s starting to go down.”

Gorka Orive, researcher and Doctor of Pharmacy, also shares his optimism. He believes that there will not be a powerful wave of infected as it happened with other previous variants.

Bassat speaks of surprise and “good news”. Although nuanced. “Must wait for these data to be extrapolated to other places, but if it follows the pattern of France, then we should expect similar things and good news here too“. And those same news are coming from other countries.

“Good news” from South Africa

South Africa, he says, can function as early warning in omicron evolutionand there the lineage BQ.1 (from which BQ.1.1.) not a cause for great concern.

Olveira also talks about XBB, another of the omicron descendants that is growing the most, but this one is growing more in Asia, in countries like Singapore, Bangladesh or India. In Europe, the one that has been gaining ground is BQ.1 and all its sublineages, especially BQ.1.1.

The example of France, Germany, Italy

Topol talks about France in his tweet, but our neighboring country is not an isolated case. If we look at the covid data from other European countries in Our World in Data, the situation is similar. In Germany or Italyfor example, it is clearly seen how the curve of covid cases it had started rising in September, as in France, but has now been plummeting for several weeks.

Incidence of covid in several European countries

Incidence of covid in several European countriesOur World in Data

The rapid growth of the BQ.1.1 variant. since the month of September made many scientists will predict a great wave of covid in Europe at the end of November. The ECDC itself qualified the BQ.1 lineage and its sublineages (including BQ.1.1.) as “variant of interest”, on October 20.

“It is expected that between mid-November and early December 2022, more than 50% of SARS-CoV-2 infections will be due to BQ.1/BQ.1.1“, then warned the European body. And that is what is happening, this lineage is gaining in prevalence to others. But now, the risk of generating a major wave no longer seems so clear.

What is happening in Spain

In Spain, the variant BQ.1.1. has been circulating in Spain since mid-September. Whether or not it has driven the incidence is not yet clear, because although it has been growing rapidly, BA.4/BA.5 are still the dominant ones, according to Health data.

The fact is that the incidence of covid began to rise at the end of Septemberand it’s been going up for a month straight. By the end of October, however, it was starting to go down. In that time hospitalizations have remained stable.

  • Incidence
  • Friday October 21: 221
  • Friday October 28: 220
  • Friday November 4: 185
  • Hospitalizations
  • Friday, October 14: 3,303
  • Friday, October 21: 3,357
  • Friday, October 28: 3,337
  • Friday, November 4: 3,363

While this was happening with the incident, the panorama of variants in Spain has also been changing. By the end of octoberHealth encrypted in 3.6% prevalence of BQ.1.1. in Spain, with data corresponding to what was sequenced the first week of October. Barely two weeks later, its prevalence has skyrocketed.

The latest variant report available to us, corresponding to this mondaynotes that “the BQ.1 lineages and derivatives of it, including BQ.1.1which have shown a rapid rate of growth in other European countries, account for 32.5%”. That is, this variant is already present in a third of what has been sequenced in Spain. The percentage corresponds to what was sequenced in mid-October.

This variant, therefore, is growing very fast in Spain in recent weeks, as in the rest of Europe. But, parallel and surprisingly, we see currently a downward trend.

BQ.1.1. more elusive but not more dangerous

It’s amazing because this variant is much more evasive than the previous ones, which facilitates its transmission. It is one of the many descendants of ómicron that have been appearing in recent months, it is part of what has been called “variant soup”. Comes from BA.5. That is to say, more than a daughter of ómicron, she would be a granddaughter, since she comes from one of his daughters. Although she is much more elusive than her.

“They are the most elusive variants of antibodies that we have tested, far outperforming BA.5. This scale in immune evasion is something never seen before.”warned Chinese immunologist Yunlong Richard Cao. And he was not only referring to it, but also to other variants that have been appearing recently. Many of them, with very similar mutations.

What is happening with the virus today is what scientists call “convergent evolution.” Variants that evolve in parallel and accumulate similar mutations. Why? Because they are mutations that they help to better evade the immunity that we have generated. Among them is BQ.1.1.

Infection with this variant causes somewhat different symptoms than the previous variants, such as hoarseness, lack of appetite and tachycardia. But that It doesn’t mean it’s more serious. At the moment, an increase in hospitalizations has not been seen in the countries where it is most present. And we must not forget that, despite their mutations, it is still a version of an old acquaintance: ómicron came to us almost a year ago.

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