Just started: a discussion among virologists and evolutionary biology experts on the new Omicron variant, looking at data in the early days.
Live tweeting some of the salient points:

There is not yet clear data on disease severity although there are concerns that the large number of mutations could possibly confer transmission advantage or immune evasion.
If we see novel variants e.g. Omicron replacing previous variants, it can suggest transmission advantage. But if this has only happened in one area, it could be due to a chance event. We need to see if the same thing happens in other countries where the variant has been detected.
We have only seen a few hundred cases of Omicron (and we don't know if they're mostly young travelers for example, rather than older folks), so it's not yet possible to know if Omicron causes milder disease. It takes a few weeks for severe outcomes to develop.
Once more labs around the world isolate the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant, they will be able to test if antibodies against previous variants are still effective against Omicron.
The current data on hospitalizations cannot substantiate confident conclusions about severity of the disease in vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals.
So far there are no signs that vaccination would not confer partial protection against severe disease and death by Omicron.
The worry is that if Omicron is very transmissible, it could lead to widespread infection; even with mostly mild cases, the relatively low % of cases with severe outcomes would still overwhelm the medical infrastructure (hospitals and healthcare workers).
We have to expect new variants in the future. We have to cope with that and not overreact (e.g., the stock market). Vaccine companies can rapidly update their vaccines based on surveillance of circulating variants.
Vaccines and public health measures still work against new variants. My addition: #COVIDisAirborne

We need to demonstrate international solidarity to incentivize transparency and problem-solving.
Travel bans only work in limited scenarios, e.g., island countries like Australia and NZ, and only for short periods of time, but if travel bans are applied recklessly, we will end up deterring countries from reporting emerging variants. This would be a worst case scenario.
The virus depends on our behavior to transmit. Even if not Omicron, your personal decisions can help to reduce transmission of Delta and other variants in your community, and prevent overwhelming your local hospitals and healthcare workers.
I only just figured out how to request to speak on Twitter space but I wanted to ask how rich countries can and should help developing countries with monitoring emerging variants #InternationalSolidarity
If you look at the amount of sequencing+data sharing relative to case numbers per country, it's very clear that we are not sequencing enough in some regions of the world (light green).

Visualized with covidcg.org @CovidCg Image

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More from @Ayjchan

1 Dec
One takeaway from this pandemic is that we must act urgently to make pathogen research funded by the US more transparent. Recently FOIA’ed emails and documents show that by 2018 the US was funding chimeric human pathogen MERS research in Wuhan.

I am starting to feel like a broken record on this, but somehow many experts in infectious diseases and biosafety still believe that all we need to do to prevent future pandemics is to keep working on the wildlife trade, which is important but so are lab-based outbreaks.
Researchers bringing thousands of high risk wildlife trade animal and human samples across 8 countries into one city can itself be considered a thriving conduit of pathogens into the human population.
Read 7 tweets
1 Dec
I think it is very important to watch the @FaceTheNation interview of Dr Fauci, especially starting from the 37 min mark.

Tough topics #OriginOfCovid, gain of function, misinformation, politicization of science, the role of social media, what is science.
@FaceTheNation Transcript here.

Brennan asks about SARS-CoV-2 "I've heard so many virologists point to that that it was uniquely adapted to be just horrible in a human body. How did it get that efficient?"
@FaceTheNation Dr Fauci said "It was very likely in a host... in typical fashion, I think trying to make sure that things don't get pointed to them, [the Chinese] probably got rid of the animals that were the intermediary hosts there."
Read 5 tweets
30 Nov
New hypothesis being floated is the Chinese accidentally destroyed evidence at the market and that’s why we can’t find the animal source of the virus.

That still doesn’t explain why the genetic and epidemiological data point to the market being a human superspreader event.
Earlier SARS2 variants were not detected at the market or in its cases. Even if the market was cleaned out, is there a reason why none of the surface samples or human cases there were infected with earlier variants of the virus? Zero of the hundreds of animal samples had SARS2.
The farms supplying the market were also traced - no virus - or shut down without testing.

Don’t know if the Chinese gov tested the handful of Wuhan animal traders / market vendors selling wild animals for antibodies. Would’ve been one of the first things to do.
Read 4 tweets
29 Nov
One of the best ways to make sure nothing gets done on an issue is to make it partisan.

Humanity, scientists & journalists, cannot afford to let lab-based outbreak prevention become an issue of one end of the political spectrum.
It is not anti-science to ask are we doing our pathogen research in a transparent and safe manner?

Yes, there are some anti-science folks using this issue to go after scientists they dislike.

We can't let that side drama distract us from actually protecting millions of lives.
Will journalists in the middle of the political spectrum please step in and do your part to make a discussion of the #OriginOfCovid (particularly an investigation of a potential lab origin) a centrist issue?

A pathogen that escapes from a lab doesn't care who you voted for.
Read 6 tweets
27 Nov
Editors at scientific journals, you can do something to stop risky pathogen research - form a pact to collectively refuse to publish research where pathogen sequences have been kept private for more than 2 years and where chimera of known/novel pathogens have been created.
If you refuse to publish this type of risky pathogen work, scientists will hesitate to spend their millions on research that they cannot publish in journals or present at conferences in order to advance their careers.
Accordingly, any scientist asked to peer review such a paper must be able to report it to an external party. I wish that the Cambridge working group or a similar organization was active so that they could receive and manage whistleblower reports.
Read 8 tweets
26 Nov
The #OriginOfCovid saga has shown that some scientists have their priorities all messed up.

Early 2020, prominent scientists condemned the lab origin hypothesis as a conspiracy theory & some claimed they knew this virus was not genetically modified. Mostly everyone fell in line.
Later, the China-World Health Organization joint expert panel said this virus could've emerged in Wuhan from frozen meat #PopsicleOrigins

Instead of calling out the China-WHO joint study, several evolutionary biologists and virologists jumped in to support this hypothesis.
Over the past year and a half, we've seen time and again that scientists from the EcoHealth Alliance and Wuhan Institute of Virology were withholding key information about the origin of some of the closest relatives to SARS-CoV-2 and experiments done in the lab...
Read 8 tweets

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