Possible MERS-like COVID-19 strain that could kill 1 in 3 infected people: Study

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Scientists warn of a new and more lethal COVID-19 variant with a similar death rate to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus with the potential to kill one in three infected people, according to a report released on Friday.

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The research, written by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies under SAGE publications, stated that there is a “realistic possibility” that this strain could hold MERS-like characteristics.

However, the United Kingdom-based experts also mentioned that this could mean that the virus could result in “less severe disease” in older people and clinically vulnerable individuals in the long run, both of whom were at the highest risk of hospitalization and death with COVID-19.

The paper also stated that the eradication of the coronavirus was “unlikely”, adding that “there will always be variants”.

‘Recombination’ of variants

People wearing protective face masks walk along a platform at King's Cross Station, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, July 12, 2021. (Reuters)
People wearing protective face masks walk along a platform at King's Cross Station, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, July 12, 2021. (Reuters)

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The study, which analyzed the ‘long term evolution of SARS-CoV-2,’ considered scenarios where a COVID-19 variant were to cause more severe reactions to the disease in a large proportion of a given population than a previous strain, with similar death rates to SARS, which stands at 10 percent, and MERS, standing at 35 percent.

The researchers said that the “recombination” between two variants of concern, interest or under investigation, would cause this type of reaction, warning that the likelihood of this happening given the current circumstances of the virus, was a “realistic possibility.”

Vaccines and future variants

The study said that a scenario where a COVID-19 variant evades the available vaccines due to ‘antigenic drift’ was “almost certain,” suggesting that the UK continues to regularly vaccinate vulnerable age groups with updated vaccines to help protect them against dominant variants.

It also found that a scenario where the COVID-19 virus becomes less severe, becoming something more like one “that causes common colds” was “unlikely in the short term” but could be a “realistic possibility” in the long run.

UK-based clinical epidemiologist took to Twitter to warn the public about the long-term implications involved in virus transmission, stating that the report was “a stark warning.”

“We seem to be taking the very path that will get us to this devastating outcome. Given the impact delta has already had, & in light of recent evidence from the CDC, we cannot afford any more new variants emerging - we need to take preventive action now,” she said in a Tweet on Saturday.

“…Contrary to suggestions by some that SARS-CoV-2 is moving to becoming more benign (refuted by the fact that several more severe variants have already evolved and spread), it considers a move to more severe variants a ‘realistic possibility’,” she added.

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