On Thursday, South African scientists announced that they detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and are already looking into its potential implications. Called B.1.1.529, experts said the new variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations which they find concerning as it can help the virus evade immune responses in the body, and possibly make it more transmissible.
“Unfortunately we have detected a new variant, which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” said virologist Tulio de Oliveira. He added that the World Health Organization (WHO) may give it a Greek name like that of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Based on early data from laboratories, the variant is suggested to have rapidly risen in Gauteng, a populated province, and may already be present in the country’s eight other provinces. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) then announced that their new COVID-19 cases for the day was at 2,465–a number just below double of the previous day’s cases. (Read: PSA: COVID-19 Vaccination Guidelines For Minors)
While NICD did not attribute the surge of cases to the new variant, some leading local experts are blaming the high number of cases to it.
Now found in other countries
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant is of “serious concern”, making it a “major threat”.
According to reports, South Africa has already found over 100 specimens containing the B.1.1.529 variant. And it has not only been found in South Africa anymore. The variant has been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case being a traveller from South Africa. (Read: What is The Anti-COVID Pill And How Does It Work?)
Because of the surge in infections attributed by scientists to the new variant, Britain has issued a travel ban for South Africa and five other southern Africa countries as concerns are growing due to the new variant. It is to be noted that scientists are saying that this could be more infectious than the Delta variant and may be more resistant to current COVID-19 vaccines.
The WHO is already closely monitoring the B.1.1.529 variant and is expected to meet today, November 26, to discuss whether or not it will be a variant of “concern” or “interest”.