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New WHO findings in Wuhan, new US variants, and a win for the UK: What to know about Covid-19 for Monday

The WHO mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time there were more than a dozen strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December, its lead investigator, Peter Ben Embarek, told CNN. The team also had a chance to speak to the first patient Chinese officials said had been infected, an office worker in his 40s, with no travel history of note, reported infected on December 8.

The slow emergence of more detailed data gathered on the WHO’s long-awaited trip into China may add to concerns voiced by other scientists studying the origins of the disease that it may have been spreading in China long before its first official emergence in mid-December.

The mission also gathered 13 different sequences of the virus, and if examined with wider patient data in China across 2019, could provide valuable clues about the geography and timing of the outbreak before December. Ben Embarek said: “Some of them are from the markets… Some of them are not linked to the markets,” which includes the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, thought to have played a role in the virus’ first spread.

Changes in a virus’s genetic makeup are common and normally harmless, occurring over time as the disease moves between and reproduces among people or animals. Ben Embarek declined to draw conclusions about what the 13 strains could have meant for the disease’s history before December.

But the discovery of so many different possible variants of the virus could suggest it had been circulating for longer than just that month, as some virologists have previously suggested. This genetic material is likely the first physical evidence to emerge internationally to bolster such a theory.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: I recovered from a Covid-19 infection, does this mean I do not need to be vaccinated?

A: Attention needs to be paid to the fact that in South Africa there were people who were infected with the original virus, recovered and then got reinfected with a variant first identified there, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

But while people have been reinfected with the South African variant, it appears as though the vaccine is better at preventing reinfection than a previous natural infection, he added.

The South African variant is more problematic than the variant first identified in the UK, Fauci said, “in the sense that we know less about it vis a vis whether it transmits more readily or not.” However, it is known that it evades the protection from some monoclonal antibodies, and it somewhat diminishes the effectiveness of the vaccine, Fauci said, but there is “still some cushion left so that the vaccine does provide some protection against it.”

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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

The US has its own batch of troubling homegrown variants

Researchers have identified a batch of similar troubling mutations in coronavirus samples circulating in the US, they said Sunday in a pre-print report. The mutations all affect the same stretch of the spike protein — the knob-like extension on the outside of the virus that it uses to dock onto the cells it infects, and the fact that these variants have turned up so often in databases means they are probably very prevalent, the researchers wrote.

This comes as a grim new forecast — of 130,000 projected deaths in the next three and a half months — confirms what experts have been warning amid declining Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations: that the US is not out of the woods. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Sunday it was absolutely too early to be getting rid of mask mandates.

Vaccine rollout is a much-needed win for UK after bungling its pandemic response

The UK has emerged with the third-highest vaccination rate in the world behind Israel and the UAE — a positive turnaround for a country criticized for mismanaging every other stage of the pandemic, Scott McLean and Florence Davey-Attlee report. On Sunday, a day ahead of schedule, it hit its target of offering 15 million vaccine doses to its top four priority groups. The groups include everyone over 70, frontline health and social care workers, those living in care homes and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

On Monday, after months of deliberation, England began its mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers arriving from 33 destinations deemed by the government to be high risk.

Auckland goes into lockdown as New Zealand and Australia get first batches of Pfizer vaccine

Two of the three new Covid-19 cases in New Zealand, which sent its city of Auckland into lockdown this weekend, are confirmed to be a variant of the virus first detected in the UK. Auckland’s cases prompted Australia to suspend its quarantine-free travel bubble for people coming from New Zealand. Both nations have been relatively successful in containing their Covid-19 outbreaks due to stringent measures.

Authorities in both countries said on Monday that the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines had arrived. New Zealand’s shipment includes 60,000 doses, while Australia received more than 142,000 doses. The doses will first go to frontline workers.

ON OUR RADAR

  • Bill Gates’ daughter Jennifer, a medical student, got her first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and offered up a lighthearted debunking of a conspiracy theory involving her dad.
  • Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine appears to reduce symptomatic Covid-19 infections by more than 90% in the real world, says Israeli researchers. The findings suggest that the vaccine remains remarkably effective in mass vaccination campaigns
  • President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual G7 event on Friday where he plans to discuss efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and rebuild the world economy
  • Brazil gambled on unproven drugs to fight Covid-19 while rejecting at least one offer to purchase a vaccine already in the final stage of trials because the terms were “abusive.
  • Coronavirus travel bans left numerous unmarried partners and their families in limbo on Valentine’s Day.

TOP TIP

No tests before domestic flights

The CDC told CNN that it is not recommending a Covid-19 testing requirement before domestic air travel, after federal officials said last week that it was being considered.

The CDC does not recommend that people travel at this time, however, and recommends travelers get tested one to three days before the trip. “After travel, getting tested with a viral test 3-5 days post-travel and staying home and self-quarantining for 7 days, even if test results are negative, is a recommended public health measure to reduce risk,” it added.

TODAY’S PODCAST

“People trust us because we bury them. We marry them. We labor with them when they have issues. — Reverend Horace Sheffield in Detroit

In today’s episode, Nicquel Terry Ellis, CNN’s senior writer on race and equality, looks into what Black faith leaders in the US are doing to combat vaccine hesitancy in their communities.. Listen now.

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