‘Very worrying’ new Covid mutant linked with explosion of cases in the Amazon

A "very worrying" new Covid mutation is behind an explosion of cases in the Amazon rainforest, scientists fear.

Four Japanese travellers tested positive for the suspected new strain after returning from Brazil's Amazonas state.

Scientists now believe the mutant emerged in the region which saw more coronavirus hospital admissions in the first week of 2021 than in December.

Authorities began storing dead bodies in refrigeration trucks this week after the country's hospitals were overwhelmed, the Mirror reports.

Felipe Naveco, from Brazil’s Fiocruz scientific research centre, said: “It’s a virus that has gone through a process of evolution, which makes us think that maybe it’s a new Brazilian variant.

"These mutations are very worrying, and we need more time and analysis to really know how it might increase transmission.”

Scientists believe the mutation has boosted the killer's bug transmission rate.

Tests have revealed the suspected variant has 12 mutations versus the 20 in variants found in the UK and South Africa.

They include similar changes to its spike protein but the lower number means they could behave more similarly to the original strain.

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And while there is no proof so far that the new variants cause more severe disease, worrying evidence emerged this week that the South African variant may be able to evade immunity from prior infections or vaccines.

Brazilian researchers reported that a woman had been infected twice with the South African variant in what is believed to be the first such case in the world.

The woman, from the Brazilian city of Salvador, reported more powerful symptoms the second time around.

Disease experts have warned that we should expect more highly contagious new variants of coronavirus to emerge more frequently, especially as the virus tries to evade global immunisation efforts.

Prof Abdool Karim, the epidemiologist who led South Africa’s fight against HIV/Aids, said: “We’re going to see this occur more commonly now than in 2020, as we vaccinate and as more people are infected.”

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