Denmark finds covid strain that might hamper vaccine effort


Denmark says it's found a new strain of covid-19 that might hamper efforts to develop a vaccine, after an outbreak in the country's mink population triggered a mutation of the virus.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told reporters that, because of developments in Denmark, there is now "a risk that the effect of a future vaccine will be weakened or, in a worst case scenario, be undermined," during a virtual press briefing on Wednesday.

Her government has passed on the information to the World Health Organization, and now plans to cull Denmark's entire mink population. According to Kopenhagen Fur, an auction house owned by Denmark's mink breeders, some 16 million animals are raised each year.

As the new coronavirus has spread from person to person, it has changed thousands of times. The vast majority of these changes are incremental, without what's known as a functionally significant mutation, though there's been previous debate over research showing that it may have evolved to become more contagious.

The mutation of the virus that's now been identified in Denmark "can have serious negative consequences for the global handling of the pandemic," Frederiksen said. There are 12 known cases in which humans have contracted the new form of the virus from mink, she said.

Denmark has already culled thousands of mink in recent months due to outbreaks of the virus. According to Wednesday's briefing, cases of Covid-19 were found in 217 out of 1,139 Danish mink farms.

Speaking at the same briefing, Kare Molbak, Denmark's top epidemiologist, said that in a "worst-case scenario, the pandemic will restart, this time in Denmark." He said the WHO would have to make the final call on whether the mutation found in Danish mink farms warrants a new classification.

The Danish prime minister and other government members and health officials who participated in Wednesday's briefing spoke via TV screens, after an outbreak of Covid in the parliament forced Frederiksen and more than half her cabinet to self-isolate.