Virus mutation block in Denmark: panic is out of place


3,000 mothers were killed on Friday at this mink farm in Naestved, Denmark. Image: keystone

Blockade due to virus mutation in Denmark: scientist warns against fear tactics

North Jutland has to go into lockdown due to mutated corona viruses. Meanwhile, independent researchers criticize those responsible in Denmark: usable information has long been lacking.

On Friday, more than a quarter of a million Danes must enter “isolation”: in North Jutland, where a mutated variant of the coronavirus has infected minks and subsequently returned to people.

In seven municipalities in northern Denmark with around 280,000 inhabitants, sporting and cultural activities will be stopped, local public transport will be stopped and regional borders will be closed. Only people with so-called “critical functions” such as police, health officials and various authorities can cross municipal borders, reports the AP news agency.

People in the region are said to be urged to take tests. Restaurants were due to close on Saturday and fifth grade students would switch to distance learning on Monday.

Danish mink farmers protested against the state-ordered culls. Image: keystone

On Friday night, Britain announced it would tighten entry requirements for air passengers from Denmark. Anyone entering the country must be in quarantine for 14 days.

On Wednesday, the Danish government ordered all mink in the country – 15 to 17 million animals – to be killed. The so-called cluster 5 virus can be transmitted from animals to humans, said the Danish health institute SSI (Statens Serum Institute).

The mutated virus is probably no longer dangerous, but there is a risk that vaccines currently under development will work less well against this variant.

What do the Danes warn against?

“We have to completely destroy this variant of the virus,” Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said Thursday, adding that the mutated virus was found in 12 people.

The Danish health institute SSI announced Friday that at least 214 people have been infected with a variant of the corona virus that originally appeared in minks since June. 200 of the cases were detected in the North Jutland region. There is a particularly large number of mink farms in this region. Sars-CoV-2 has already been found in 216 farms across the country.

Danish experts have warned that continued mink farming poses a significant risk to public health during an ongoing corona pandemic. A large number of mink farms leads to more infections in humans, and a large number of infected minks increases the risk of viral mutations, against which currently developed vaccines may not protect.

Aimed at the population, he says:

“As a citizen, you don’t have to worry. The mutated virus is no more dangerous than other viruses or more contagious. However, if it spreads in Denmark or internationally, it could potentially have serious consequences for the protective effects of future vaccines. “


How it started

In June 2020, a spread of Covid-19 infections “with a unique mink variant” was found in a mink farm in North Jutland, according to a report by Danish authorities. As a result, the variant of the virus has spread to a nearby service center and to other people. The mutated coronavirus has spread to two other mink farms via person-to-person infections.

So far, five different groups or clusters of mink variants (clusters 1-5) have been found in Denmark, according to a report on the SSI website.

Cluster 5 virus was found in five mink farms and in 12 samples in August and September. 11 of them were from North Jutland and one from Zeeland.

An information television service by Deutsche Welle (in English).

Video: YouTube / DW News

How does the WHO react?

The World Health Organization (WHO) was briefed by those responsible in Denmark.

WHO representatives told the AP news agency that each case needed to be evaluated to determine if the virus behaved differently due to the genetic changes.

“We are far, far from making such a determination,” said Mike Ryan, WHO emergency response manager. He said mutations in viruses occur over and over again.

“At the moment, the evidence we have available does not indicate that this variant behaves differently.”

Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said Thursday that he does not believe that a viral strain adapted to mink poses a greater risk to humans.

“We can never rule out anything, but in principle neither should. Under no circumstances should the transmission increase. I see no good reason why the virus should get worse. “

What do independent scientists say?

The Biologist and epidemiologist Emma Hodcroft works at the University of Bern and gave an interview to the German news magazine “Der Spiegel”, published online Friday. The renowned researcher who herself referred to as “virus hunter”, criticizes the lack of data and warns against fear tactics.

“Unfortunately there is no official information on the mutations in question. This makes evaluation difficult for researchers. We do not know what experiments were carried out, what results they gave exactly and what conclusions could be drawn from them. “

The Danish Statens Serum Institute reported two mutations in September and October. But whether it is now these two mutations or whether the Danish experts have discovered other mutations, she does not know.

In any case, the two coronavirus mutations mentioned were not only known from Denmark. One of these is related to a mutation that makes at least one antibody less effective, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a vaccine is less effective.

The report (by the Danish authorities) was disappointing: “The announcement raised concerns and understandably led to many questions from the public – researchers like me cannot answer now because we lack information.”

The epidemiologist from the University of Bern:

German virologist Björn Meyer also expressed his disappointment via Twitter that the Danish authorities had not shared important information in months.

Will the virus weaken on its own?

Viruses are not simply becoming more harmless, although this has sometimes been described as such, stresses epidemiologist Emma Hodcroft in the interview with ‘Spiegel’. HIV is a good example: it has been common among people for decades, and without treatment it continues to kill people.

“A virus would have the pressure to become milder if it killed people so quickly that it could no longer transmit the pathogen. But Sars-CoV-2 doesn’t have the problem. We assume that most Sars-CoV-2 infections happen before anyone develops symptoms and that many people who don’t get sick also spread the virus. “

Does the coronavirus spread to other animals?

The AP news agency quoted Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety expert. He says initial studies in pigs, chickens and cattle have shown that these species are “not sensitive at all” like mink, for example. Even if these animals were infected with the coronavirus, “they could not maintain and spread the disease in the same way.”

In principle, many animals can be infected with the corona virus, SRF reported Friday. According to the knowledge desk, the list of known cases ranges from primates, hamsters, rabbits, ferrets and bats to cats and dogs. And: “With intensive farming, infections are transmitted more easily because many animals are close together.”

Dutch virologist and zoonosis expert Wim van der Poel said more research is needed, but “a reservoir of the virus in mink or other members of the marten family” (Mustelidae) should be avoided.

Denmark is the world’s largest exporter of mink fur and is estimated to produce 17 million furs per year.


With material from the SDA-Keystone news agency.

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