On May 10, the World Health Organization added a new virus to its list of covid-19 variants of global concern. The variant, B.1.617, is being blamed for the runaway infections in India. It is the fourth addition to a list that also includes variants first identified in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on covid-19, at a briefing.
With each new variant comes growing unease. News stories about “double mutants” and “dangerous variants” stoke fears that these viruses will be able to evade the immune response and render our best vaccines ineffective, sending us back into lockdown. But for the moment “the virus hasn’t fundamentally changed,” says Kartik Chandran, a virologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Vaccines may become less effective over time, but there’s no evidence that we’re on the brink of catastrophe. “I don’t think that there’s an imminent danger that we’re going to go back to square one,” says Thomas Friedrich, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. “We should be concerned, but not freaked out.”
Here are five reasons why we can be cautiously optimistic.