A worrying new variant of coronavirus, whose mutations show a “great leap in evolution”, is driving an increase in new COVID-19 infections in South Africascientists said Thursday.
In the last 36 hours after observing an increase in infections in South Africa’s economic center, Gauteng province, the scientists detected the variant B1.1.529. So far, 22 positive cases have been identified in South Africa, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases of South Africa.
Since the start of the pandemic, several variants have emerged. An underlying concern about the new variants is whether will hamper progress against the pandemic o si limit the effectiveness of the vaccine. South African scientists will meet with the technical team of the World Health Organization on Friday, where the authorities will assign you a letter of the Greek alphabet.
The Botswana Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement that four cases of the new variant were detected in people who were fully vaccinated. All four were tested before their respective planned trips. A sample was also detected in Hong Kong, transported by a traveler from South AfricaSouth African scientists said.
With over 1,200 new infections, South Africa’s daily infection rate is much lower than in Germany, where new cases are driving a new wave. Nevertheless, the density of mutations in this new variant raises fears that it could be highly contagious, prompting scientists to raise the alarm early.
“This variant did surprise us, it has a big leap in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” he said. Tulio de Oliveira, Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
Variant B1.1.529 has a “very unusual constellation of mutations”, with more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, affirmed de Oliveira. In the ACE2 receptor, the protein that helps create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells, the new variant has ten mutations. By comparison, the Beta variant has three, the Delta variant has two, he clarified.
By showing mutations that could resist neutralization, Scientists are also unclear about how effective existing vaccines will be against the new variant.. The variant shares similarities with Lambda and Beta, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist with the KwaZulu-Natal Innovation and Research Sequencing Platform.
“All these things are what worry us that this variant has not only improved transmissibility, so it has spread more efficiently, but also it could bypass parts of the immune system and the protection we have there“, Added Lessells.
The new variant has been largely detected among young people, the cohort that also has the lowest vaccination rate in South Africa.. Just over a quarter of people between the ages of 18 and 34 are vaccinated, said Dr. Joe Phaahla, the country’s health minister.
Although the cases of the new variant are mainly concentrated in the economic center of the country, particularly in the capital, Pretoria, it’s “just a matter of time” before the virus spreads across the country as schools close and families prepare to travel for the holiday season. Phaahla finished.
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