JOHANNESBURG, Nov 25 (Reuters) – South African scientistshave detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and areworking to understand its potential implications, they said onThursday.
The variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a “very unusualconstellation” of mutations, which are concerning because theycould help it evade the body’s immune response and make it moretransmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference.
Early signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest the varianthas rapidly increased in the most populated province of Gautengand may already be present in the country’s other eightprovinces, they said.
South Africa has confirmed around 100 specimens asB.1.1.529, but the variant has also been found in Botswana andHong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveler from SouthAfrica. As many as 90% of new cases in Gauteng could beB.1.1.529, scientists believe.
“Although the data are limited, our experts are workingovertime with all the established surveillance systems tounderstand the new variant and what the potential implicationscould be,” South Africa’s National Institute for CommunicableDiseases said in a statement.
South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a WorldHealth Organization (WHO) working group on virus evolution onFriday to discuss the new variant.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said it was too early to saywhether the government would impose tougher restrictions inresponse to the variant.
South Africa was the first country to detect the Betavariant last year.
Beta is one of only four labeled “of concern” by the WHObecause there is evidence that it is more contagious andvaccines work less well against it.
The country detected another variant, C.1.2, earlier thisyear, but it has not displaced the more common Delta variant andstill only accounts for a small percentage of genomes sequencedin recent months.(Reporting by Alexander WinningEditing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Potter)
Source: Orange County Register