Scientists warn over new COVID-19 variant found in South Africa

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According to scientists, a new Covid type with an “extremely high number” of mutations may cause additional outbreaks of illness by escaping the body’s defenses.

Although just ten instances in three countries have been validated by genome sequencing, the variation has piqued the interest of some experts since a number of the mutations may enable the virus to elude protection.

The B.1.1.529 variation contains 32 mutations in the spike protein, which is used by most vaccines to prepare the immune system against Covid. Mutations in the spike protein can impair the virus’s capacity to infect and propagate cells, but they also make it more difficult for immune cells to kill the infection.

The variation was discovered in Botswana, where three examples have been sequenced so far. Six more have been verified in South Africa, and one has been confirmed in Hong Kong by a tourist returning from South Africa.

Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, uploaded the novel variant’s data on a genome-sharing website, remarking that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern.”

Peacock stated in a series of tweets that it “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile,” but added that it may be an “odd cluster” that is not highly transmissible. “I truly hope that’s the case,” he added.

Dr. Meera Chand, the UK Health Security Agency’s Covid-19 incident director, stated that the agency was continually monitoring the status of Sars-CoV-2 variants as they emerged and developed globally in collaboration with scientific authorities throughout the world.

“As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed,” she said.

The first instances of the variation were found in Botswana on November 11, and the first in South Africa three days later. The Hong Kong instance involved a 36-year-old male who got a negative PCR test prior to traveling from Hong Kong to South Africa, where he remained from October 22 to November 11. He tested negative upon his return to Hong Kong, then positive while in quarantine on November 13th.

England no longer maintains a red list to impose restrictions on foreign visitors. Those who have not been fully immunized must test negative before traveling and arrange for two PCR tests upon arrival. Those who have received all of their vaccinations must undergo a Covid test within two days of arriving.


South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla described the variant as a “major threat” that was causing an “exponential” spike in reported cases.

On Wednesday, the country’s daily infection rate reached 1,200, up from 106 earlier in the month.

Prior to the discovery of the new type, officials expected that a fourth wave would strike South Africa around the middle of December, boosted by holiday travel.

The country has 22 positive instances of the new variety, according to the government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

According to the NICD, the number of discovered cases and the proportion of positive tests are “growing rapidly” in three of the country’s provinces, including Gauteng, which includes the economic center Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

According to the NICD, a cluster epidemic has just been found, which is centered on a higher education university in Pretoria.

The virus’s Beta form initially appeared in South Africa last year, but until recently, its infection levels have been driven by Delta, which was discovered in India.

South Africa has the most pandemic cases in Africa, with around 2.95 million infections, 89,657 of which have been fatal.

Variant Mutations

According to the researchers, the new variety features at least ten alterations, compared to two for Delta and three for Beta.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said at a virtual press briefing, The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.

“It will take us a few weeks to understand the impact of this variant on any potential vaccines,” she added.

Neutralizing the variation is “complicated by the number of mutations this variant”,” according to Penny Moore, one of the South African experts.

“This variant contains many mutations that we are not familiar with,” she noted.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that they would meet with South African scientists shortly to address the variation.

“There are so many variants out there but some of them are of no consequence on the trajectory of the epidemic,” Africa CDC head John Nkengasong told a news conference on Thursday.

Following a sluggish start to the vaccination campaign in South Africa, around 41 percent of people have gotten at least one dose, with 35 percent completely vaccinated. These figures are much higher than the continental average of 6.6 percent of those immunized.

South Africa’s goal is to immunize 70% of its 59 million inhabitants.

South Africa has delayed taking receipt of further requested doses because “we are getting vaccines in faster than we are using,” according to health ministry head Nicholas Crisp.

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