South Africa detects new Covid variant with many mutations
Scientists from South Africa said on Thursday that they had detected a new variant of Covid-19 with a large number of mutations, blaming it for an increase in the number of infections.
The number of daily infections in the worst affected country in Africa has increased tenfold since the beginning of the month.
In response, Britain has banned all travel from the country and five other southern African nations as concerns grow about the new variant, which scientists say could be more infectious than Delta and more resistant to current vaccines.
“Unfortunately, we have detected a new variant, which is cause for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a hastily called press conference.
The variant, which carries the scientific label B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” he said, adding that the World Health Organization could give it a Greek variant name, such as the dominant Delta strain, the Friday. .
“Unfortunately, it is causing a resurgence of infections,” he said.
The variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, de Oliveira added.
The WHO said it is “closely monitoring” the reported variant and is expected to meet on Friday to determine whether it should be designated as a variant of “interest” or “concern.”
“The first analyzes show that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will be the subject of further study,” added the WHO.
‘A great threat’
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “grave concern” and was behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”.
The daily number of infections in the country reached 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 106 at the beginning of the month.
Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted that a fourth wave would arrive in South Africa from mid-December, fueled by travel ahead of the holiday season.
The government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country.
The NICD said the number of detected cases and the percentage of positive results are “increasing rapidly” in three of the country’s provinces, including Gauteng, home to the economic center of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.
A cluster outbreak was recently identified, concentrated at a higher education institute in Pretoria, the NICD added.
Last year, the Beta variant of the virus first appeared in South Africa, although so far its infection figures have been boosted by Delta, which was originally detected in India.
South Africa has the highest number of pandemics in Africa with around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.
The scientists said the new variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta and three for Beta.
“The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said at a virtual press conference.
“It will take us a few weeks to understand the impact this variant has on potential vaccines,” he added.
Neutralizing the variant is “complicated by the number of mutations that this variant contains,” said one of the South African scientists Penny Moore.
“This variant contains many mutations that we are not familiar with,” he added.
The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they will meet with South African experts soon to discuss the variant.
“There are so many variants, but some of them have no consequence on the trajectory of the epidemic,” CDC Africa Director John Nkengasong told a news conference on Thursday.
After a slow start to South Africa’s vaccination campaign, about 41 percent of adults have received at least one dose, while 35 percent are fully vaccinated. Those numbers are well above the continental average of 6.6 percent of people vaccinated.
South Africa aims to vaccinate 70 percent of its 59 million people.
With reserves of 16.5 million injections, South Africa has postponed the delivery of more ordered doses because “we are getting the vaccines faster than we are using them,” said Health Ministry Director Nicholas Crisp.
Source Credit: TheGuardian