(Expansion) – As personal security measures continue to be relaxed, the world is clearly facing the start of a new wave of infections. In Europe and the United States, upward peaks are beginning to be registered. For example, Germany is calling on its citizens to resume the use of face masks, while the percentage of patients with COVID-19 admitted to hospitals grows; The UK is expanding the official list of symptoms of this illness to include muscle aches and diarrhoea.
Thus, it is highly probable that we will have a sixth wave in Mexico. What size and features? We do not know, but it will surely be driven by the new sub-variants that are already circulating in the country, which are presumed to be more threatening, and which are precisely the ones that are already causing high infections in other countries. The ones that attract attention, until today, are the subvariants of Ómicron with the nomenclatures BQ.1 and BF.7, which according to the analyzes could evade the immune response and whose behavior would seem to be very different, even, from the original version of Ómicron .
Today we are not facing a cocktail of variants, but rather an ocean of Omicron sub-variants. According to Dr. Daniele Focosi, an expert in Virology at the University of Pisa, the Omicron mutations have given way to a universe of subvariants. Its nomenclature has changed rapidly, but the most recent are the ones that are presumed to be more aggressive.
When Omicron emerged, what scientists call “divergent evolution” occurred, that is, the virus diversified. But now we are facing another phenomenon known as “convergent evolution”, which could be explained as the meeting of different mutations that begin to appear shared between different subvariants, and thus could have some particularities of each other. In this way, the virus can acquire new advantages.
The evolution of Omicron has been frenetic, to such an extent that the scientific community has baptized some of its subvariants as Cerverus, Typhoon, Minotaur (names that have not been officially recognized by the WHO). Faced with this, it is predicted that a declaration could come from these warning of the arrival of a new variant.
“There are some unconfirmed rumors that a new variant will probably come out with a different name than Ómicron, declared by the WHO,” says Carlos Arias, coordinator of the Mexican Genomic Surveillance Consortium (CoViGen-Mex).
According to the most recent CoViGen-Mex updates, seven genomes have already been identified in the country as BF.7 and one more as BQ.1; almost all in Mexico City. The first trace of BF.7 was registered in August and the call is to be aware of the behavior of these subvariants, since it is believed that they could take advantage of those that have circulated in recent months in Mexico. The BQ.1.1 subvariant, which has already been strongly present in other countries, has not yet been detected in the national territory.
“Even though they are sub-variants of Omicron, they are behaving a bit differently. For this reason, the weeks that follow are decisive to know what will be the dominant sub-variant or if the changes are already enough to know if we have a new variant of concern, with another name”, affirms Mauricio Rodríguez, spokesman for the University Commission for Health Care. of the UNAM Coronavirus Emergency.
So, the possible appearance of a new variant, the collage of subvariants, the decrease in attention to public health measures, perhaps temporality, are ingredients that can determine the next wave. So far, it is expected that it will cause fewer hospitalizations and deaths because of the immunity that we have already generated, both through natural infection and also through vaccines. Fortunately, so far, all vaccines continue to protect against variants and subvariants.
The new subvariants find conditions that are very different from what the previous subvariants found because there is already very strong immunity from vaccination and because there is also already immunity from the disease. However, these new variants and/or sub-variants are managing to escape from this and continue to be transmitted.
Yes, it is not possible to declare when the sixth wave will arrive in Mexico, but now, more than ever, it is urgent that virological surveillance be maintained. We are in one of the lowest moments of the entire pandemic, but we are already clear that trends can change at any time. That said, the increase in infections is predictable, hopefully not seriously, but it could cause, among other things, disruptions in schools and offices.
The WHO decided, a few days ago, not to withdraw the state of emergency yet precisely because of the accumulation of variants and subvariants. Thus, the declaration that would give way to considering COVID-19 endemic will have to wait. All eyes are on an event: the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which can accelerate a global wave given that people from all over the world (many Mexicans) will be there and that will be fertile ground for the virus.
Let’s understand: let’s get used to living with the virus, we will not be able to eradicate it, its particularities are changing and the only thing left for us is to control it with personal hygiene measures, distance, face masks, hand washing, etiquette sneezing and having access to vaccines.
Genomic surveillance is an irreversible trend throughout the world.
The Mexican Genomic Surveillance Consortium, in this pandemic era, has contributed to Mexico being among the 20 countries that have sequenced the most virus genomes, with 25,811 complete genomes of SARS-CoV-2 and a complete genome of monkeypox. In total, 78,344 have been sequenced in Mexico to date.
From January 2021 to date, together with the collaboration of InDRE, Inmegen and other institutions, it has generated relevant information to better understand the evolution of the pandemic. A multi-institutional group has been established with IMSS, Cinvestav, UNAM, among others, which at the same time has allowed the training of highly trained human resources in sequencing technology and bioinformatics.
However, today, the Mexican Genomic Surveillance Consortium has its days numbered. At this time, the Consortium operates with the remainder of the support granted by Conacyt and, if there is no renewal of support, its activity will end in the first week of December.
For this reason, Consortium authorities are in talks with their counterparts from Conacyt and InDRE to continue with the national genomic surveillance network. Otherwise, it will be difficult to continue with the sequencing and computer analysis of emerging and re-emerging viral pathogens; with active surveillance to be able to detect the appearance in the country or the entry of new viruses.
Editor’s note: Jonathán Torres is managing partner of BeGood, Atelier de Reputación and Storydoing; business journalist, media consultant, former editorial director of Forbes Media Latam. Follow him on and on Twitter as . The opinions published in this column belong exclusively to the author.