A version of this story appeared in the May 17 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
(CNN)The coronavirus variant first identified in India has ravaged the nation, then spread into neighboring countries, causing immeasurable suffering. Scientists believe the variant, called B.1.617.2, could be more transmissible than the original Covid-19 strain. There is no evidence that it is causing more serious illness. But its higher transmissibility means the number of infections is rising a lot faster.
Today’s recorded cases in India dropped below 300,000 for the first time in almost a month, but its daily death toll still stands at over 4,000. And this caseload is overwhelming healthcare systems.
More than 80 patients died within a few days at one of the largest government hospitals in Goa state, after it had been experiencing oxygen shortages according to a local opposition party politician.
There is a hint of good news though: it looks like existing Covid-19 vaccines work against the variant .
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that “new, very early data” from Oxford University gave “a degree of confidence” that the vaccines will work against the new strain.
He echoed scientists who have been cautiously optimistic about the efficacy of the vaccines.
Sir John Bell, Oxford’s Emeritus Professor of Medicine, told Times Radio that early lab results suggested the B.1.617.2 variant “will be susceptible to the vaccine in the way that others are.”
The university cautioned that the data is preliminary. Bell said the tests done using plasma serum from vaccinated people showed the vaccine had the ability to neutralize the virus. “That is a highly effective way of telling whether you’re going to be protected or not,” he added.
“If you do the lab experiment, it looks okay. It’s not perfect but it’s not catastrophically bad. There’s a slight reduction in the ability to neutralize the virus, but it’s not very great and certainly not as great as you see with the South African variant,” he said.
Still, the new variant has now reached scores of countries and is causing concerns around the world. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted last week that his government was “anxious” about the new strain.
And while the UK government went ahead today with its reopening plans in England, relaxing many social distancing measures and allowing indoor dining, its plan to lift all legal limits on social contact from June 21 is far from set in stone.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: What’s the science behind the US decision to say fully vaccinated people don’t need masks?
A: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that fully vaccinated people in the United States can go without masks in most circumstances.
One reason behind the decision was a study that found that real-life use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provided 94% protection for front-line workers immunized at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. A single dose provided 82% protection, the CDC-led team reported in the agency’s weekly report, the MMWR.
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
Taiwan was a Covid success story. Now it’s fighting its biggest outbreak
Taiwan imposed new social distancing measures this weekend, closing bars, clubs and gyms around the island and restricting gatherings in Taipei as it battles its biggest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic last year.
The democratically-ruled island off the coast of China, widely praised as a success for its handling of Covid-19, reported 207 new cases Sunday — a record single-day rise. One infection was imported from India, while the others were all locally transmitted.
Calls are growing for another nationwide India lockdown. That’s not realistic
Millions of Indians are living under a mix of locally-imposed coronavirus restrictions, as the central government resists calls from leading medical experts for a nationwide lockdown.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has done that before, and learned a very painful lesson. Experts say shutting down the nation again is not realistic, Aditi Sangal reports.
US is getting better and better news on the coronavirus
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a horrible impact on the United States. Hundreds are still dying daily because of the coronavirus. Things are still not back to normal. But the data do show there are reasons for optimism.
A new Axios/Ipsos poll finds that 67% of American adults have either gotten a Covid-19 vaccine or will get it as soon as possible. And it seems likely that some people who were initially hesitant are actually getting a shot, as the percentage of vaccine hesitant is at its all-time low at 14% in the Ipsos data.
ON OUR RADAR
- Delta Air Lines is requiring new employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, making it one of the largest US companies to issue a mandate.
- Kenya is just weeks away from running out of vaccines with less than 2% of the population having had a first shot,
- Covid-19 vaccination drives were suspended in the Indian city of Mumbai today and in the state of Gujarat today and tomorrow because of Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, officials said.
- Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate showed a strong immune response and no safety concerns in a Phase 2 trial, the companies said today. A large Phase 3 trial of the vaccine is expected to begin in the coming weeks, they said.
- Another vaccinated New York Yankees staff member has tested positive for Covid-19, the ninth to do so in the last week. Eight of the nine were asymptomatic, according to the team.
- China has suspended its spring climbing season from the Tibetan side of Mount Everest. On the Nepali side, climbers are scrapping their expeditions over Covid-19 concerns.
- A Virginia mom who recruited four of her sons to work alongside her on the frontlines of the pandemic wants you to know: You don’t have to have a medical degree to help the fight.
TODAY’S TOP TIP
Many people have developed a sense of comfort and safety while wearing a mask and maintaining distance and some are now expressing uncertainty about how to acclimate to an atmosphere free of masks after spending so much time focused on wearing one.
Psychologist John Duffy says easing your way back can help overcome the anxiety. Patience, with yourself and others, is also important.
And if you feel the need to carry one with you for a time, if that provides you a degree of comfort, absolutely do so, he says.