Futures are sliding on Thursday night when, with most US traders snoring in a tryptophan coma, the world is suddenly freaking out, and algos are hitting bids, amid fears that a new coronavirus strain detected in South Africa, known as B.1.1529, reportedly carries an "extremely high number" of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, which may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defenses South African scientists said.
Translation: a new wave of restrictions, more lockdowns, and - eventually - trillions in new stimmies are coming... an outcome so "unexpected", we rhetorically asked if this was the endgame just one week ago.
Is this next lockdown going to result in more stimmies?— zerohedge (@zerohedge) November 18, 2021
According to the Guardian, only 10 cases in three countries have been confirmed by genomic sequencing (and up to 100 suspected), but that is more than enough for the Pharma-Government complex to set the wheels of widespread social panic and future lockdowns in motion and, according to the liberal outlet, "the variant has sparked serious concern among some researchers because a number of the mutations may help the virus evade immunity." Which of course is a polite way for Bill Gates to suggest you panic.
According to reports, the new B.1.1.529 variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid. Mutations in the spike protein make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen, just as so many vaccine skeptics have been warning for the past year when making the point that taking inefficient medications shoved down the population's throats (such as those from Pfizer and Moderna) that do not serve as real vaccines but merely paliatives, will only lead to more dangerous and weaponized versions of the virus.
That's precisely what is happening now.
The variant was first spotted in Botswana, where three cases have now been sequenced. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.
Botswana’s health ministry confirmed in a statement that four cases of the new variant were detected in people who were all fully vaccinated. All four were tested before their planned travel. One sample was also detected in Hong Kong, carried by a traveler from South Africa, South African scientists said.
With over 1,200 new infections, South Africa’s daily infection rate is much lower than in Germany, where new cases are driving a wave. However, the density of mutations on this new variant raises fears that it could be highly contagious, leading scientists to sound the alarm early.
“This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
The B1.1.529 variant has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, said Mr. de Oliveira. On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three, the Delta variant has two, said Mr. de Oliveira.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, agrees with Oliveira. Peacock posted details of the new variant on a genome-sharing website, noting that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern”.
In a series of tweets, Peacock said it “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile.”
For those interested this has an NTD insertion at the NTD insertion hotspot (at aa214) which shows high likelihood of being host-derived (from host TMEM245 mRNA) pic.twitter.com/huNZbgEEsv— Tom Peacock (@PeacockFlu) November 23, 2021
But, as some cynics pointed out on twitter, "the Strangelove who provided that convenient media clickbait epithet 'horrifying' has also admitted it may be LESS not more of a danger" and indeed, the Guardian report notes that it may turn out to be an “odd cluster” that is not very transmissible. “I hope that’s the case,” he wrote.
That new, scary "#Variant of concern" about which the hype is again building? Well, the Strangelove who provided that convenient media clickabit epithet 'horrifying' has also admitted it may be LESS not more of a danger.— Wild Goose #TNCM (@TrueSinews) November 25, 2021
They are SO transparent, aren't they?#COVID19(33) pic.twitter.com/xlPQwzYiaT
Perhaps even more importantly, it also appears that the Chinese were busy splicing away in the past few months (this time probably without Dr Fauci's money): according to Peacock, the this variant contains "not one, but two furin cleavage site mutations - P681H (seen in Alpha, Mu, some Gamma, B.1.1.318) combined with N679K (seen in C.1.2 amongst others)." As Peacock notes, "this is the first time I've seen two of these mutations in a single variant."
Why does this matter? Because as even the reputable Nature mag recently noted, researchers have asked Covid's "furin cleavage site — a feature that helps it to enter cells — is evidence of engineering, because SARS-CoV-2 has these sites but its closest relatives don’t. The furin cleavage site is important because it's in the virus's spike protein, and cleavage of the protein at that site is necessary for the virus to infect cells."
Translation: use of the furin cleavage sites is how covid would be genetically-engineered inside, say, a BSL-4 lab in China... of which the only one can be found in Wuhan.
In any case, while nobody knows yet what the spike protein mutation cluster actually does yet, the speculation that it will lead to another wave of global infections is already in the wild. Sure enough, Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, said work in his lab found that two of the mutations on B.1.1.529 increased infectivity and reduced antibody recognition. “It does certainly look a significant concern based on the mutations present,” he said. “However, a key property of the virus that is unknown is its infectiousness, as that is what appears to have primarily driven the Delta variant. Immune escape is only part of the picture of what may happen.”
Prof Francois Balloux, the director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said the large number of mutations in the variant apparently accumulated in a “single burst”, suggesting it may have evolved during a chronic infection in a person with a weakened immune system, possibly an untreated HIV/Aids patient.
“I would definitely expect it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing antibodies relative to Alpha or Delta,” he added.
Translation: in terms of vaccines, B.1.1.529 could well represent an entirely new disease, as the existing neutralizing antibodies will have little to no impact on a virus with all these mutations. Which is music to the ears of politicians who have just the catalyst to order a whole new round of lockdowns and, critically, stimmies that keep them in power for another quarter or two.
Case in point, just as news of the new strain emerged, the U.K. announced it will temporarily ban flights from South Africa and five neighboring countries (Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana) over worries about the new covid variant. The travel restrictions go into effect at noon Friday and are a precautionary measure to keep the spread of the new variant in check, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. The six African countries will be placed on the U.K.’s red list as of Sunday, requiring travelers to quarantine in hotels upon arrival.
“As part of our close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant,” Javid said in a statement, adding that the new strain it’s now under investigation.
Israel also has banned travel from the six countries, along with Mozambique, another neighbor of South Africa, BNO News said in a tweet, without citing the source of the information.
The U.K.’s move is a further blow to the airline industry, which was starting to recover from earlier travel restrictions and lockdowns but now faces fresh curbs and a resurgent virus in parts of Europe. The measures announced Thursday mark the biggest change in the U.K.’s Covid travel rules since the so-called traffic light system was overhauled earlier in the autumn to ease border crossings. From 500 to 700 people daily arrive in the U.K. via South Africa on flights, a number that would normally be expected to increase in the next four to six weeks due to seasonal travel.
Of course, such bans never actually stop the virus from spreading, but they do ramp up the public frenzy about the new strain. And since B.1.1.529 is too long to pronounce, some time tomorrow we will have a new Greek letter to fear: according to the NYT, South African scientists will meet with the World Health Organization technical team on Friday, where authorities will assign a letter of the Greek alphabet to this one. It will take several weeks to see the impact of the new variant on hospitalizations and deaths and to study how it may interact with vaccines.
“Armed by our experience and understanding of the alpha and delta variants, we know that early action is far better than late action,” Ewan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, said in a Science Media Centre briefing note. “It may turn out that this variant is not as large a threat as alpha and delta, but the potential consequences of not acting on the possibility it could be are serious.”
For those who wish to learn more about the new "horrifying" strain and superglue no less than 10 masks to their face, they can do so at this just released article from Nature "Heavily mutated coronavirus variant puts scientists on alert"
Everything we know so far on the new B.1.1.529 variant, for which there is an emergency @WHO meeting to reviewhttps://t.co/TmxGBi6IEv @nature by @ewencallaway @naturehttps://t.co/r9kHwg2zjWhttps://t.co/tBEct7F8M7 🧵by @jburnmurdoch @FT pic.twitter.com/fe5pkIpqnW— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) November 25, 2021
The sudden surge in fears that a new "delta" variant was coming was enough to spark a futures dump late on Thursday, and S&P 500 futures fell 0.6% as of 10:20 a.m. in Tokyo after news of a new coronavirus strain discovered in South Africa. Contracts on the Nasdaq 100 were down 0.3% (tech/growth stocks tend to do much better during lockdowns than value), and the broad MSCI Asia-Pac index was down 1.4% as worries about a new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa were compounded by thinner liquidity in markets. .
Asia’s stock benchmark was on track for its worst day since Sept. 29, as selling on news about the latest Covid-19 variant detected in South Africa was exacerbated by thin liquidity. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slumped as much as 1.4%, with financials and tech shares dragging the measure the most in a broad-based selloff. Japanese equities declined, leading losses in Asia, and the yen strengthened with some traders away for Thanksgiving celebrations.
"The fact we have North America off the desks means there’s a wall of buyers missing” at a time when there are “scary” headlines about the new Covid-19 variant, said Kyle Rodda, an analyst at IG Markets. According to Rodda, the virus-related headlines “may have caused a knee jerk reaction,” while “thinner markets make for more pronounced moves.” He added that some weakness through cyclicals, implying markets are also concerned about growth and an aggressive Fed that may slow the global economy.
Oil, an asset that is extremely sensitive to any future lockdowns, tumbled.
“Even before this news, virus cases were back on the rise in the U.S. and Europe, so investors are now wary of the possibility that with a new variant, infections could spread all at once,” said Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management chief market strategist Masahiro Ichikawa.
There’s a risk the Nikkei 225 will break below the 29,000 mark; if it breaches that level, there’s a possibility the measure will finish the day in the 28,000-yen-range. “Today would have been a quiet day if not for the news of the variant.”
Ichikawa is right, only it's kinda the other way round, because this "heavily mutated variant" is just the deus ex both central bankers and politicians have been desperately hoping for: with Europe already locking down in several countries, expect a uniform global lockdown to follow in weeks, which will serve to reset the supply chain collapse and buy markets, pols and bankers about one or two quarters of time, during which expect several more trillion in stimmies, much more QE (to monetize the debt used to pay for the stimmies) and generally a rerun of the past 18 months only in a much more truncated timeline, which in turn will lead to a burst of inflation that will make the current soaring prices seems like Japan's deflationary debt trap.