Botswana / South Africa have remarkably good SARSCoV2 variant surveillance in place. Their scientists have been proactive and transparent about the emergence of B.1.1.529. The predictable - and up to a point understandable - international response has been "shut the borders".
An unintended side-effect of such a 'punitive' response may be to disincentive global SARSCoV2 surveillance or at least make them think twice before sharing data. This is a tricky issue and I'm not implying that temporary border closures are bad (or good). It's complicated.
That said, if open, generous, sharing in good-faith of early evidence about the potential emergence of a concerning novel SARSCoV2 variant is met only with ostracism, this doesn't feel auspicious for a successful global SARSCoV2 variant monitoring framework.
At the very least, the punitive measure of border closure should be counterbalanced by positive incentives, such as support for their genomic surveillance programmes and far more generous help with the healthcare challenges they are currently facing.
Or less subtly:
Boffin: We found this funny looking viral variant ...
Official 1: Warn the WHO!
Official 2: Nope, stop, remember what happened last time. They cordoned us off, which devastated our economy, and on top we got all the blame despite it being already widespread ...

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More from @BallouxFrancois

26 Nov
The emergence during the pandemic of 'Covid-epi-Kardashians' is an interesting phenomenon. I feel I can say so, as I probably qualify as one. To get this out of the way, I didn't make a single penny out of it and professionally the benefit is mixed at best.
I won't deny that the fame and attention of being a 'covid-epi-Kardashian' hasn't felt flattering and exciting at times, even if it probably hasn't been ideal for my mental health and life balance.
More importantly, I'm not a Messiah. If you like a tweet of mine, that's cool, if you don't, that's cool too, and you shouldn't feel upset if my views don't always align with yours. Some of my views may resonate with yours, others won't - that's life, the way it should be.
Read 5 tweets
23 Nov
Under the plausible assumption that essentially everyone will get infected by SARSCoV2 at some point, the area under the curve of infections / pop size will asymptotically tend towards 100% eventually, in every country (below confirmed cases until now as a proxy).
In the future, it should be possible to work out, up to a point, what the best pandemic mitigation strategy may have been in terms of various metrics, such as excess mortality, educational achievements or social cohesion.
"Hindsight is notably cleverer than foresight", and any such past (and current) prediction was (is) based on major - and generally unstated assumptions - such as the evolution of the virus or the efficacy of vaccines.
Read 6 tweets
20 Nov
I don't know who patient zero was for SARS-CoV-2, and I doubt we'll ever know. We actually hardly ever identify 'patient zero' for disease outbreaks and epidemics, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it could lead to blame and ostracism of innocent people.
A Mexican boy was identified as 'patient zero' for the 2009 H1N1 epidemic/pandemic. He actually wasn't 'patient zero' in all likelihood, as much as the media cherish such stories.…
An emerging disease is unlikely to be identified before the number of cases reach ~1/CFR (CFR: Case Fatality Rate). For a disease like COVID19 with fairly 'undiagnostic' symptoms relative to other respiratory virus infections, the threshold is likely much higher.
Read 9 tweets
18 Nov
The frequency of the AY.4.2 SARSCoV2 lineage is still slowly increasing in the UK, now reaching ~15% of all cases. Results from a recent study (REACT-1) suggest it might cause a smaller proportion of symptomatic infections.
AY.4.2 causing a lower proportion of symptomatic infections might explain its increase in frequency, with asymptomatic carriers unwittingly transmitting it more often. This would be good news in principle - fewer symptoms -> less morbidity/mortality.
That said, this result requires confirmation before being taken at face value. The statistical significance is very marginal (P = 0.04) and this may likely turn out to have been a 'false positive' finding.
Read 6 tweets
12 Nov
Biology fieldwork (late 20th century). Image
There's actually a semi-serious message behind my sharing this pic. As a young biologist, I handled birds, bats, rodents, insectivores and whatnot without taking any precaution. No one did. I've been scratched and bitten by half the vertebrates in Europe.
Was this reckless, or does it imply that the baseline risk of pathogen pandemic-causing spillovers into humans is low. This raises a set of interesting questions. BTW, European wildlife is as riddled with pathogens as African or Asian ones, including myriad coronaviruses.
Read 4 tweets
10 Nov
A significant proportion of healthcare workers (HCWs) in the UK exposed to SARSCoV2 during the 1st wave of COVID19 never tested positive for PCR or antibodies. Instead, they controlled infection through expansion of pre-existing X-reactive T-cells.
The ability to control infections through pre-existing T-cell immunity likely stemmed from constant pre-pandemic low-level exposure of HCWs to endemic coronaviruses. Such X-reactive T-cell immunity may not be sufficient to control infections by the more aggressive α/δ strains.
More positively, the results reinforce the importance of long-lasting T-cell immunity (i.e. decades) and could inform the design of the next generation of SARSCoV2 vaccines.
Read 6 tweets

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