The Botswana Covid variant, which is considered highly infectious and vaccine resistant, is causing a wave of Covid in South Africa and could become dominant in the country “very quickly”, scientists warned today.
About 100 cases of B.1.1.529, its scientific name, have been detected so far and the World Health Organization has announced that it will convene an emergency meeting tomorrow to investigate the disturbing strain.
South Africa’s national infection rate has more than quintupled over the past week after the variant was first detected in neighboring Botswana on November 11.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of Covid surveillance in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, told a hastily-organized press conference today that he had been spotted in almost every corner from the country.
Scientists fear that the mutant strain is highly transmissible and that it is more likely to infect vaccinated people than the Indian variant “Delta”.
Professor Oliveria admitted that experts were still “uncertain” about the impact of the variant on the country’s epidemic.
But he explained that the virus has five times more mutations on a specific part of the peak that antibodies bind to compared to Delta – which means it might be better at infecting those vaccinated than the globally dominant strain. .
Current injections train the immune system to recognize an older version of the peak, and many changes to this protein make it more difficult for people who have been vaccinated to recognize the virus and fight it off.
The variant alarm was first sounded yesterday after it was revealed that it had 32 mutations and was the most evolved version of Covid to date.
In a flash of hope, however, British experts told MailOnline yesterday that the extended mutations could work against the virus, making it “unstable”.
They said he probably appeared in a persistent infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.
Prof Oliveira said he had called for an “urgent” meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the rising variant, which could be named “Nu” in the coming days.
This graph shows the proportion of cases that were variant B.1.1.529 (blue) and Indian variant “Delta” (red) over time in Gauteng, one of the nine provinces of South Africa. This suggests that the mutant strain supplanted Delta in the province within two weeks, but experts warn that this is based on only a few verified cases for the variants.
The above slide shows the proportion of tests that detected an SGTF mutation, which distinguishes the B.1.1.529 variant from the dominant Indian ‘Delta’ variant. This suggests that the Covid variant could quickly spread across the country. The slide was presented at a briefing today hosted by the South African government
The above slide shows the variants detected by province in South Africa since October of last year. This suggests that B.1.1.529 is concentrated in Gauteng province. This was presented today during a South African government briefing
The above shows the test positivity rate – the proportion of tests that detected the virus – in Gauteng province. It reveals that there is a slight increase in cases in the north of the province. It is not clear if this could be motivated by B.1.1.529
What is the new “Botswana” B.1.1.529 variant?
Should i be worried?
The British shouldn’t be “too concerned” about the variant, scientists say.
Its mutations suggest that it is better able to escape vaccine-induced antibodies and more transmissible than other variants.
But this has yet to be confirmed by lab tests or real-world data.
Where were the cases detected?
26 cases have been detected to date.
There are three in Botswana and 22 in South Africa.
A case was also detected in Hong Kong in a 36-year-old man who recently returned from the African continent.
The epidemic in South Africa is concentrated in Gauteng, Limpopo and the North West Province. Two of them recorded a sharp increase in infections.
No case has been recorded in Britain to date. British officials said they were monitoring the situation closely.
Can the strain dodge vaccine-induced immunity?
Scientists say mutations in the strain suggest it is better able to dodge immunity from vaccines.
Some have warned that it “looks like” it might be better at dodging jabs than any other variant, including the South African “Beta” strain.
South African scientists say that many infections in their country have been detected in people detected in people believed to be immune to vaccines or a previous infection.
It carries the K417N and E484A mutations, which are similar to the beta variant that made it more resistant to jab.
But it also has mutations N440K, found on Delta, and S477N, on the New York variant, which could also make it more resistant.
B.1.1.529 also carries the P681H and N679K mutations which are “rarely seen together” on a specific part of the spike protein.
South African scientists say many infections have been detected in people believed to be immune to vaccines or a previous infection.
The first case was identified in Botswana on November 11 and was detected in South Africa the next day.
A case was also spotted in Hong Kong on November 13 in a 36-year-old man who returned from South Africa on November 11.
In South Africa, it has been officially spotted in the provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo and the North West.
But Professor Oliveira warned that it could already be in “almost all provinces”.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, who first sounded the alarm about its spread, called the combination of mutations in the variant “horrible.”
He warned that B.1.1.529 had the potential to be “worse than almost everything else”.
Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that he is concerned about the Botswana variant because of its “very extensive” set of mutations.
He said: “It increases the risk of vaccine escape, but does not prove that it will happen.
“The infectivity of the strain is also unclear, and it too will be affected by the structure of the tip.”
The Botswana variant carries the K417N and E484A mutations which are similar to the South African ‘Beta’ variant which made it more apt to dodge vaccines.
But it also has N440K, found on Delta, and S477N, on the New York variant, which are also linked to the antibody leak.
The variant also has P681H and N679K mutations which are “rarely seen together” and could make it even more resistant to jab.
And the N501Y mutation which makes viruses more transmissible and has already been seen on the Kent ‘Alpha’ and Beta variant among others.
Other mutations it has include G446S, T478K, Q493K, G496S, Q498R, and Y505H, although their significance is not yet clear.
Dr Meera Chand, UKHSA, said: ‘The UK Health Safety Agency, in partnership with scientific bodies around the world, is continuously monitoring the status of SARS-CoV-2 variants as they develop. they emerge and develop in the world.
“As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not uncommon for a small number of cases to present with new sets of mutations. Any variants showing signs of spread are promptly assessed. ‘
It comes as Covid cases have continued to rise across the UK, but deaths and hospitalizations still tend to fall sharply.
Another 43,676 cases have been recorded in the past 24 hours, an increase of 14.1% from the 38,263 positive cases confirmed last Wednesday.