Streeck gives the all-clear: “There is no new virus emerging in China” – concerns about mutations unfounded?
Created: 12/21/2022, 9:58 am
By: Leonie Hudelmaier
The Bonn virologist Professor Hendrik Streeck.
© UKB / Johann Saba/UKB / Johann Saba/obs
In the Merkur interview, the virologist Hendrik Streeck gives the all-clear about the corona situation in China and explains why mutations are no cause for concern.
Munich – The world is reacting nervously because China is relaxing its corona rules.
Could a new mutation come now?
The virologist Hendrik Streeck, a member of the German government’s Corona Expert Council, gives the all-clear in an interview and explains why mutations are no cause for concern.
Video: Massive corona wave in China
How should the currently rapidly increasing number of infections in China be classified?
If the measures are taken in China now and the virus hits a relatively naïve population, then there will of course be increased infections.
The increase in the number of cases is therefore not unusual.
What do high case numbers do with a virus?
With around 1.5 billion, the Chinese are a very large people.
If many of them become infected in the next few months, there may be renewed selection pressure on the virus, and this can result in mutations.
You have to imagine it like this: In a relatively short time, many immune systems try to contain the virus - but the virus tries to escape.
This can lead to immune escape variants.
This has already happened in many other parts of the world, as we have seen from the different variants.
This has not yet happened in China.
Could this be relevant to the rest of the world?
The virus changes so that it is no longer easily recognized by the immune system.
We've already done that in the rest of the world - that's how Omikron came into being, for example.
In China we have to watch this closely now.
It may well be that other immune escape variants arise as a result.
But don't worry now.
There is no new virus.
It's not all starting from scratch and it's clear where the virus is likely to go.
We are currently seeing the emergence of very many variants in the world, all characterized by immune escape.
There is also such a variant soup in Germany.
Virologist warns: "There is no new virus in China"
Is an immune escape variant a more dangerous variant?
The easiest way to understand this is to visualize what the virus “wants”: easier transmission, evading the immune system, and not losing your fitness in the process.
Characteristics that make you ill do not belong on the “wish list” of the virus.
The Omikron variant is such an example of this development.
But no matter how the virus evolves, we always have partial immunity from vaccination or past infections.
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What role do the Chinese vaccine and the few booster vaccinations play in the current situation in China?
Vaccination protects against a severe course, but not good protection against infection.
Not even in China.
As a result, a wave of infections must be expected.
The most important thing for China is that there are no frequent deaths and severe courses.
Therefore, the most important thing is to vaccinate or protect the elderly population.
Are the Chinese now at the mercy of the virus?
Not all Chinese will be infected at once.
Humans have a social milieu that we rarely move out of.
So the mixing is not as strong as one would think.
As a result, infection always occurs in waves.
Because someone who was just infected cannot immediately become infected again.
We are talking about a natural flattening out due to a heterogeneous distribution of the infection process.
Corona virus cannot be contained permanently - China also recognizes this
Chinese epidemiologists say there will be three more waves in China by April.
I would not dare to predict how many waves there will be in China.
It's such a big country and it will probably also vary from region to region.
I don't even want to predict it for Germany.
Because we will always have increasing numbers of cases in autumn and winter, even if we are already endemic.
What is the BF mutation found in China.
7 to rate?
It has also appeared in Germany.
But we have a mixture of different variants in this country.
BF.7 originates from the omicron BA5 variant and we in Germany have good immunity to it.
To put that in perspective, the BQ1 or BQ1.1 variant we talked about last has already accumulated more changes than the BF.7 variant.
Therefore, this variant does not come with surprising additional properties.
Could the little information about Corona from China still be dangerous?
It is difficult to speculate on what China knows or is not telling us.
Certain things would be good for us to know.
But with the reversal from the zero Covid strategy, I think China has come to a relatively similar conclusion as all other countries.
This virus cannot be contained permanently.
Therefore, we find ways to live with it by vaccinating and protecting vulnerable groups.
Interview: Leonie Hudelmaier
Interview: Leonie Hudelmaier