The new Variant currently known as B.1.1.529 — and likely to be named by the World Health Organization (WHO). And the new variant has been detected in more than 20 samples taken from COVID-positive people in South Africa and same variant has been detected in Botswana..
It looked like the control of COVID-19 was within reach, but the news of a new variant in south Africa has got scientists, health officials and the general public concerned.
This version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has over 50 mutations in total with over 30 changes to the spike protein. While many of these mutations have already been present in other existing SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as the Delta variant, this new variant could be the winner “variant with the most mutations,” if a title were awarded today.
The variant which has double the number of mutations as the currently dominant delta variant, as the “worst one yet”.
However, scientists are doing their best to determine whether the new variant is more transmissible or more lethal than previous ones.
The UK says it is concerned by the newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa that might make vaccines less effective and jeopardize progress made across the world in fighting the pandemic. Therefore flights will be temporarily banned from South Africa and five other African countries over worries about the new, dramatically different COVID-19 variant recently identified in the region.
And it is clear that this has the most mutations of any strain yet identified. Hence the concerns raised inside South Africa and internationally, with authorities fearing a wave of cases that could increase pressure on already strained healthcare systems.
UK announced it was temporarily banning flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini and British travellers returning from those destinations would have to quarantine.
Australia has no plans to restrict flights from South Africa, despite the emergence of a new variant.
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Friday that officials were assessing the extent of threat posed by the variant and would not put any restrictions on arrivals from the region.
Before today, there seemed to only be ten confirmed cases of the variant: three in Botswana, six in South Africa, and one in a person in Hong Kong who had just returned from traveling in South Africa. However, there are indications it has spread much more further than initially thought.
South Africa’s vaccination rate is estimated to be 24% while in Botswana, only one in five people have been vaccinated.
A bioinformatician with South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, Tulio de Oliveira, said at a briefing that the new variant had a “very unusual constellation of mutations”.
This new variant is really worrisome at the mutational level. South Africa and Africa will need support (financially, public health, scientific) to control it so it does not spread in the world. Our poor and deprived population can not be in lockdown without financial support. pic.twitter.com/CeJIXudUIA
— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) November 25, 2021
Tulio de Olivera explained that scientists had picked up more than 30 possible changes just to the spike protein, 10 of which could change the part of the virus that binds to human cells.
“The Beta variant had three mutations to this part, and Delta just two”, he said.
The vaccines defend our bodies against virus — and its worrying how these changes are happening. If they change too much, our immune systems might not notice them until it’s too late and the infections have gone high.
As Professor Tulio de Oliveira explained, some of the changes have been seen before and scientists know how they affect the virus’s behaviour, however others have only been seldom seen.
“So the full significance is still uncertain,” he said.