The South African variant threatens the world

Data on the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 identified this week in South Africa are still preliminary. There are many questions and few answers. But what little we do know is truly worrying. We are facing a variant that has the potential to restart the pandemic.

Epidemiological data indicate that the new variant is spreading rapidly in different regions of South Africa where the Delta variant has been dominant in recent months. The results of genomic analysis indicate that it combines numerous mutations that had been found separately in other variants, but never together before, and that many of these mutations can help the virus become more infectious.

A health worker prepares a syringe for a covid vaccine in Johannesburg, South Africa

m Ludbrook / EFE


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Crude prices are also suffering, as tighter restrictions would limit activity and lower demand for black gold, which falls 3%.

If variant B.1.1.529 is confirmed to be more transmissible than Delta, it will only be a matter of time before it replaces it and becomes the dominant variant in the world. The pandemic would then enter a new phase with consequences that are currently unpredictable.

It remains to be clarified if it is more transmissible because it is more contagious per se or because it has a greater capacity to escape immunity, either to the immunity of vaccines or to the one that has been acquired by having passed a previous infection with another variant. The mutations identified in the genomic analyzes suggest that it is a combination of both.

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If it turns out to be more capable of escaping immunity than the Delta variant, it remains to be seen how much the efficacy of current vaccines is reduced. And if it is substantially reduced, it may be necessary to rapidly create a new generation of vaccines specifically designed to stop this new variant. While waiting for these vaccines to be produced and distributed, the variant would have a few months to spread around the world with few obstacles.

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The most urgent thing now is to collect more data to better understand the variant we are facing. Check to what extent it is more infectious than Delta. If it really is much more infectious as the first data seem to indicate, understand what makes it so infectious. And extreme vigilance with genomic analysis to know how far it has come so far and to detect it as soon as possible when it gets here. It is possible that B.1.1.529 detected in South Africa has already spread to many other countries.

In Catalonia, as the microbiologist Tomàs Pumarola, from the Vall d’Hebron hospital, told me in a whatsapp this morning, “we are attentive; for now we have no case ”.


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Drafting / Agencies

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Several countries begin to suspend flights from southern Africa

Reactions to the alert posed by this new South African variant of covid are already coming from various parts of the world. The United Kingdom already announced this Thursday that from this Friday at noon it suspends flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

A path recommended by the European Union. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has already advanced this Friday that the EC, “in close collaboration with member states, will propose to activate the emergency brake to stop travel from the southern African region due to the worrying variant B.1.1.529 “.

For its part, Israel has already detected three suspected cases of the new South African variant and has announced a ban on the entry of passengers from seven southern African countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland.

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