New COVID-19 variants reported in South Africa, Botswana

2021-11-25 18:10:45
New COVID-19 variants reported in South Africa, Botswana

South African scientists have detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and are working to understand its potential implications, they said on Thursday. A new variant that is the most highly mutated version of the virus to date, has also been reported in the neighboring Botswana.

The variant, called B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference.

Early signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest the variant has rapidly increased in the most populated province of Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces, they said.

South Africa has confirmed around 100 specimens as B.1.1.529, but the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveler from South Africa. As many as 90 percent of new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529, scientists believe.

“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.

South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization (WHO) working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.

Meanwhile, scientists have raised the alarm over a new COVID-19 variant believed to have emerged in Botswana that is the most highly mutated version of the virus to date.

Although only 10 infections have been detected so far, the variant has already been recorded in three countries, suggesting it is more widespread. Expected to be given the name "Nu", the strain carries 32 mutations, many of which suggest it is highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant, and has more alterations to its spike protein than any other variant.

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