North Denmark has been placed under lockdown following the discovery of a SARS-CoV-2 mutation in mink farms
North Denmark in lockdown over mutated virus in mink farms
Accurate (supported by evidence and facts; acceptable margin of error)
On 6 November 2020, the Associated Press (AP) agency reported in an article that northern Denmark is under lockdown due to a mutation of the virus (SARS-Cov-2, Ed.) in mink farms. This claim is accurate.
The Danish government has enforced new restrictions in the north of the country after authorities discovered a mutated version of the coronavirus in mink was also found in humans. In the article, Associated Press explains that seven municipalities in northern Denmark had to close their borders and suspend all sport, culture and public transport activities. Only people with "critical functions", such as police, health workers and certain authorities are allowed to cross municipal borders.
What is this SARS-CoV-2 mutation in minks? What are the risks for humans? What impact could this discovery have on the development of vaccines?
The mutation of the virus: human implications
According to The World Health Organization (WHO), variants of COVID-19 have been identified in more than 200 humans since June 2020, including 12 with a single variant, called "Cluster 5", reported on November 4, in Northern Jutland (Northern Denmark). Of these 12 cases, 8 were associated with farmed minks and 4 were from the local community. Because of this situation, authorities decided to put 280 000 people from this part of the country in lockdown. Therefore, the Associated Press' statement is accurate.
While the severity and transmission observed in people infected with "cluster 5" are similar to those of other types of SARS-CoV-2, this variant remains unique. Preliminary results obtained from a small number of cases indicate that "cluster 5" has a reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies. However, WHO says further studies are needed to verify these results and to better understand the implications for vaccines under development.
We have described how COVID-19 is transmitted, mainly between people through respiratory droplets and close contact, but as noted in the update of COVID-19 Facts article, there are also possibilities and cases of transmission between humans and animals, such as dogs, felines (lion, tiger), hamsters, ferrets, monkeys and minks.
In Denmark, authorities reported that minks have been infected by humans. The concern raised by the Danish authorities remains the possibility that minks may transmit the virus to humans and that there may be a spill-back (human to mink) of the virus. This cycle of transmission could lead to genetic transformations, resulting in changes in the disease in human populations. According to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, minks are more likely to re-infect humans because they are more likely to have a high viral load in their overcrowded cages and therefore be more infectious. Compared to other farm animals that may also live in crowded conditions, minks have ACE2 receptors similar to humans that allow the virus to infect human cells.
What exactly is happening in Denmark?
As of November 12, six countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the United States have reported the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in farmed minks to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) according to ECDC.
Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen said the lockdown measures in the North of the country were intended to contain the virus and they came two days after the government ordered the culling of all farmed minks.
“We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well” Frederiksen said at a press conference as reported by BBC
Minks are farmed for their luxurious fur. Denmark is the leading producer of mink, with 28% of world production. Following the discovery of contamination cases with "Cluster 5" on November 4, the government ordered the culling of 15 to 17 million in Denmark 1139 farms.
As a result, thousands of minks, even those that were not contaminated, were culled. However, some farmers and citizens considered the government's actions to be excessive. Newspapers have even raised the legal aspect of this decision. The scandal, now known as minkgate, had consequences in the political ranks. Mette Frederiksen publicly apologized and blamed the minister of agriculture for the error. The minister of agriculture resigned.
However, a government investigation revealed that the decision to cull minks across the country was made collectively by the government and that the Prime Minister was warned about the legality of this decision.
What can we expect in terms of vaccines?
ECDC explained in its report that “of all mink-related variants analysed so far, only the “cluster 5” variant has raised specific concern due to its effect on antigenicity. Further investigations are needed to assess whether this may have any impact on i) the risk of reinfection, ii) reduced vaccine efficacy or iii) reduced benefit of treatment with plasma from convalescent patients or with monoclonal antibodies. It should be noted that continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms may eventually give rise to other variants of concern”.
In addition, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said in a statement that “While the COVID-19 pandemic is currently sustained through human-to-human transmission, there are concerns that the introduction and circulation of new virus strains in humans could result in modifications of transmissibility or virulence and decreased treatment and vaccine efficacy. Yet, the full consequences remain unknown, and further investigation is needed to fully understand the impact of these mutations.”
Are lockdowns enough?
As explained in a previous article, lockdowns are only one component of the measures that countries can implement to limit the spread of COVID-19, according to the WHO. For individuals, the guidelines are as follows:
- Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
- Ensuring frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
- For people with symptoms of acute respiratory infection, practicing cough etiquette, such as maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands; use of masks where appropriate; and
- Enhancing standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals in health care facilities, especially in emergency departments.
World Health Organization
Danish Ministry of Agriculture
French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety
Twitter - Minkgate
World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
North Denmark in lockdown over mutated virus in mink farms
November 27, 2020
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