New form corona under mink scares the Danes. Justly?

New form corona under mink scares the Danes. Justly?
New form corona under mink scares the Danes. Justly?

Mink in North Jutland, Denmark.EPA image

On Friday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that seven municipalities in the ‘mink area’ in the northeast of the country will be locked to prevent the spread of the virus. “The eyes of the world are on us,” said the prime minister. Announced a day earlier Frederiksen is already to cull the entire mink sector of the country.

The immediate cause is the discovery of a virus variant that would pose ‘a serious threat to public health and to the development of a vaccine’, says Frederiksen. Twelve people have now been infected with the variant, three of them directly by the mink.

Four mutations

According to Danish scientists, five new clusters (‘families’) of the corona virus are now circulating around the mink farms. One member of cluster number five is of greatest concern – a virus variant with four changes to the spines it uses to infect cells. There is no evidence that the mutant would make people more ill, health minister Magnus Heunicke stressed at a press conference.

But the virus, with a few chemical building blocks less and three modified amino acids on its spines, could more easily break free from one of the vaccines currently being tested, according to a technical note from the Danish vaccine institute the Statens Serum Institute (SSI). . In laboratory experiments, human antibodies were indeed found to have less control over the mutated virus.

Four other mutated mink viruses are still under investigation. It is certain that there are viruses with subtle changes to their spines. In total, the SSI detected seven mutations of the spike protein. ‘The worst scenario is that we will launch a new pandemic in Denmark,’ infectious disease specialist Kåre Mølbak has already seen happening.


But abroad, some experts watch the Danish panic with surprise. After all, viruses such as the coronavirus always change, even when they circulate among humans. ‘Idiot’,

(University College London) the Danish statement that the mink virus may even be resistant to vaccines. And ‘irresponsible’.

‘Thousands of mutations are constantly occurring in Sars-Cov-2’,

he, referring to the virus’s formal name. ‘Just because a few are seen in minks doesn’t change the viruses that are in circulation in humans. If the virus were to better infect its human host through these mutations, they would already circulate at a high frequency. ‘

Virologist Wim van der Poel (Wageningen University) points out that the country has been struggling with infections on its mink farms for some time. For example, at one of the first Danish mink farms where it was found, the virus had already contracted a mutation in its protrusions. But that mutation didn’t spread at the time. I think they just said: this far and no further, now we are going to take rigorous measures.

Dangerous cocktail

It is clear after outbreaks in the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the US that minks are an important source of fire for the new corona virus. The virus is not unusually deadly to animals, but it can easily jump from mink to mink – and from mink to human again. A dangerous cocktail, which also prompted the Netherlands to close down the sector early in March next year.

But Denmark’s step goes a little further: it is so far known for the first time that a country is destroying an entire agricultural sector as a precaution against disease. Hong Kong alone once committed to killing all 1.2 million chickens in the territory in 1997, after an extremely deadly human flu variant emerged in the animals.

Denmark is the largest producer of mink fur in the world: the country supplies more than a quarter of the world market. In total, 207 mink farms have been infected in the country. Mink variants of the coronavirus already account for half of all infections found in Northern Denmark, the authorities said.

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