NeoCov: Wuhan scientists warn of deadlier Covid variant. All you need to know

Published on Jan 28, 2022 02:28 PM IST

The latest type of Covid-19 is not a new variant but related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome that affected middle-eastern countries in 2012 and 2015.

Residents wearing masks to help protect from the coronavirus gather in line as they wait for a throat swab at a Covid-19 test site outside a residential housing block in Fengtai district in Beijing, China on Wednesday.(Representative image/AP)
Residents wearing masks to help protect from the coronavirus gather in line as they wait for a throat swab at a Covid-19 test site outside a residential housing block in Fengtai district in Beijing, China on Wednesday.(Representative image/AP)
BySharmita Kar | Edited by Sohini Goswami, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Even as the fast-spreading Omicron strain started waning in parts of the world, another variant of the coronavirus disease – NeoCov – is creating a buzz after scientists from Wuhan in China, where the Covid-19 pandemic originated, flagged concerns that it may have much higher rate of transmission compared to previous strains and could potentially be the deadliest of them all.

According to a research paper submitted by scientists in Wuhan, NeoCov is related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome or MERS-coronavirus. The paper was published on the bioRxiv website and is yet to be peer reviewed.

Discovered in a bat population in South Africa, the virus was known to be spreading only among animals. However, it has now been found that NeoCoV and PDF-2180-CoV use some types of angiotensin-converting enzyme, including bat ACE2 and human ACE2 for entry.

Although not a new variant, the MERS-CoV virus is similar to SARS-CoV-2 in terms of symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath and was prevalent in the middle-eastern countries in 2012 and 2015. Many people died due to the infection.

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Based on the findings, the research said MERS-CoV belongs to the lineage C of Beta-CoV (Merbecoviruses), which poses a great threat considering its high case-fatality rate of approximately 35 per cent.

“Our study demonstrates the first case of ACE2 usage in MERS-related viruses, shedding light on a potential bio-safety threat of the human emergence of an ACE2 using “MERS-CoV-2” with both high fatality and transmission rate,” the scientists wrote in the study.

“Immunity triggered by prior infection or vaccination of other coronaviruses might be inadequate to protect humans from NeoCoV and PDF-2180-CoV infections because neither SARS-CoV-2 anti-sera nor ten tested anti-MERS-CoV nanobodies can cross-inhibit the infection caused by these two viruses,” the researchers stated.

In the Middle East respiratory syndrome, the virus was transferred to humans from infected dromedary camels. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the origins of the virus are not fully understood but based on genome analysis of the virus, it is believed to have originated in bats and later transmitted to camels at some point in the distant past.

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