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These Are The Five Emerging Coronavirus Variants That Worry Health Experts The Most

As soon as the latest strain of coronavirus that caused COVID-19 infection burst onto the world stage in late 2019, medical experts and scientists knew it was bad. However, most in the medical community also thought the virus was stable and would resist mutations – which could buy us time while we develop treatments and vaccines.

Researchers were only partly right. The virus is definitely bad—but it is not so stable after all. Ever since jumping from animals to humans, the virus has been undergoing rapid shifts in mutations leading to several new variants of the original virus in recent months.

The COVID-19 virus is rapidly mutating and presenting challenges for researchers and our vaccine roll out.

Since the pandemic began, new viral versions of the virus have been popping up in communities around the world, and in some cases have outcompeted the existing variants. Although improved surveillance and sequencing efforts might partly explain why these variants are appearing now, some repetition in their patterns suggest the mutations are not random.

“What we’re seeing is similar mutations arising in multiple places,” Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan, told Scientific American. “That’s pretty suggestive that these mutations are doing something.”

Most of these mutations in the virus seem to help the virus transmit more rapidly and evade the body’s immune system. In fact, in January, researchers reported for the first time that antibodies from individuals with COVID did not completely neutralize a variant first identified in South Africa. A few people who recovered from the disease also appear to have been reinfected with the mutant virus.

But which variants of the virus have scientists most worried and why?

SPAIN

The 20A.EU1 variant, first identified in Spain, contains a mutation called A222V on the viral spike protein. The spike is a component of SARS-CoV-2 that binds to a receptor on human cells called ACE2, and this attachment helps the virus get inside those cells and infect them.

This spike protein is also what is targeted by human antibodies when they fight back against the infection. Over the course of several months, the 20A.EU1 variant became the dominant one in Europe. Epidemiologists never saw any evidence that it was more transmissible than the original, however. Researchers believe that when Europe began lifting travel restrictions last summer, the variant that was dominant in Spain spread across the continent.

U.K.

Scientists in the U.K. had been watching the B.1.1.7 variant for some time before announcing in December that it might be at least 50 percent more transmissible than the original form. That announcement was based on data that showed the virus rapidly spreading throughout the nation. And it led to international travel bans and stronger lockdown measures in the U.K.

South Africa

The B.1.351 variant appeared around the same time as B.1.1.7 in the U.K., and it spread quickly in South Africa to become the dominant version in that country. But scientists are most concerned about its E484K mutation which may help the virus evade the immune system and vaccines.

A lab also found that some antibody cocktails, such as one currently being tested by the drug and biotech companies Regeneron and Eli Lilly, may be less effective against mutations present in the B.1.351 variant.

Brazil

In January researchers reported they had detected two new variants in Brazil, both descendants of a somewhat older common ancestor variant. Although they share mutations with other newly discovered versions, they appear to have arisen independently of those variants.

Vaccines are so far still potent against these strains but we must be vigilant.

So far researchers haven’t seen any major concerns among the vaccines made by by Moderna and Pfizer and their ability to protect against COVID-19 infection. However, Moderna has begun developing a booster shot specific to new variants. Because these two vaccines are more than 90 percent effective, a slight drop in effectiveness would still make them worth using, experts say.

“I’m optimistic this won’t compromise the [COVID vaccines], but obviously, it’s something we’ve got to watch closely,” Lauring told Scientific American. In coming years, he adds, companies may need to retool these vaccines and administer updated versions, much in the same way that flu vaccines are revised each year.

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

CESAR VON BANCELS/AFP via Getty Images

Peru is being ravaged by a deadly second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Few parts of the country are as badly affected as the remote Amazonian villages in the northeast of the country and cities like Iquitos.

The country has been one of the worst hit by the pandemic. For several months last year, it topped the per capita death charts. Officially, 1.2 million have been infected here while 43,880 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

One man’s effort to help those who have been most impacted, has nearly cost him his life.

As Peru now faces a daily oxygen shortage of 100 tons, Peruvians are becoming desperate for whatever oxygen they can get their hands on. Oxygen mafias are rising up to steal oxygen products and sell them on the black market for obscene prices.

Juan Torres Baldeón is a good samaritan who has, by his own estiamte, donated free oxygen to 8,000 desperate families in the jungle city of Iquitos. With his generosity, he’s likely saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in the process. But his generosity has also come with risks.

It began with crooks infiltrating the long lines outside Baldeón’s warehouse. The problem became so severe that the police and the military had to be called in to maintain order.

“We only give oxygen to those with prescriptions,” Baldeón told VICE News. “Normally, just half a tank, unless the patient is really sick, because we have to ration what we have. But we kept finding people in the queue who didn’t have a prescription, and when you asked them the name of the patient, they didn’t know what to say.”

Then he began receiving threatening phone calls, demanding he surrender his entire lifesaving supply of oxygen or leave his city behind.

That was when the criminals, who Baldeón believes are a local cocaine cartel, made their move.

In late January, Baldeón had left his home to go to the gym but quickly had to return. When he got back home, his office/home and four others alongside it were on fire.

“They probably thought I was inside,” he told VICE. “There’s nothing left now, just ashes. I feel for my neighbors. They didn’t even have anything to do with the oxygen.”

Thanks to Covid-19, oxygen has become a necessity for so many.

From Lima to Mexico City, residents have been forced to stand in line for hours on end and search far-flung neighborhoods to refill their oxygen tanks.

Normally, refilling a 10,000 liter tank of oxygen would cost around 100 Sols ($27). But with Covid-19 forcing so many to seek care at home with supplemental oxygen, some are paying more than $1,000.

Baldeón isn’t the only person to be threatened over oxygen supplies.

In Peru’s capital city of Lima, a district mayor was forced to send his family abroad following death threats that he received after setting up a municipal oxygen plant and distributing the essential gas to needy families, including to those from outside his district.

Yet even outside of Peru, his family remain unsafe, and they have had to change hotels after their whereabouts were discovered by the criminals, who also threw a grenade at his house.

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

Nissan Mexico

Like students around the world, kids in Mexico have been forced to take school online or tune into programming on public TV in order to learn. But that’s just the kids who are lucky enough to have access to Internet or a TV. Many students live in rural areas and lack the adequate resources to continue their studies amid the global pandemic.

But thankfully, there are many good samaritans out there (aka compassionate teachers) who have invented their own ways to bring the classroom to kids wherever they are.

A Mexican teacher was gifted a decked out pickup truck by Nissan.

Since schools were forced to close last year in April, Aguascalientes special education teacher Nallely Esparza Flores, has been driving four hours a day to educate students one-on-one at their homes from her truck bed, outfitted with a small table and chairs.

News of her project spread across social media, eventually reaching the corporate offices of Nissan México. This week, the company surprised Esparza with the gift of a new pickup truck specially outfitted with a small open-air mobile classroom built into the truck’s bed.

“Today I feel like my labors and the help that we give each day to children and their families is unstoppable,” she said on Twitter Wednesday, sharing photos of her new vehicle. “My students no longer have to take classes in the full heat of the sun,” she said.

Nissan representatives said they decided to give Esparza the adapted NP300 model, 4-cylinder truck after hearing her story because she was “an example of perseverance and empathy.”

“When we learned about the incredible work of this teacher, we got together to discuss in what way we could contribute to this noble work,” said Armando Ávila, a vice president of manufacturing.

The mobile classroom is pretty legit and will allow Esparza to continue her good deed.

Esparza inside her new classroom.

The decked out Nissan pickup truck has three walls (the other is a retractable sheeting) and a ceiling made with translucent panels to protect teacher and student from the elements while letting in natural light.

It also has retractable steps for easy access to the classroom, electrical connections, a whiteboard and an easily disinfected acrylic table and benches that are foldable into the wall to provide space. The table also has a built-in plexiglass barrier to allow social distancing.

Access to education in Mexico is highly inequitable.

Esparza, like many teachers across the country, found that not all distance learning was equal. Many of her students in Cavillo were from poor families without internet access. So she used social media networks to keep in touch with such students via cell phones, but even that was not necessarily an available option for all — and not ideal. Finally, she decided to solve the problem by hitting the road in her pickup truck.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only 58% of students in Mexico had a home computer – the lowest percentage among all OECD countries. And only about one third (32%) of the school computers in rural schools in Mexico were connected to
the Internet, compared to more than 90% for schools located in urban areas.

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