Explanation: What is this new variant of COVID-19 emerging in South Africa? – National

South African scientists this week identified a new version of the coronavirus which they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It is not known where the new variant actually emerged from, but it was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers in Hong Kong and Botswana.



Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential increase” in cases over the past few days, although experts are still trying to determine whether the new variant, named B.1.1.529, is really responsible.



From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa has seen the number of daily new cases climb to over 1,200 on Wednesday and to 2,465 a day later. Struggling to explain the sudden increase in cases, scientists studied virus samples from the outbreak and discovered the new variant.

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South African experts said that to date, there was no indication that the variant caused more serious or unusual illness and noted that, as with other variants, some infected people did not show any symptoms.



Why are scientists worried about this new variant?

It appears to have a high number of mutations – around 30 – in the coronavirus spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to humans.

Sharon Peacock, who led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said data so far suggests that the new variant has mutations “compatible with improved transmissibility”, but said that “the significance of most of the mutations is still not known. She said it would take several weeks to perform the laboratory tests necessary to determine whether the current coronavirus vaccines are still effective against the new variant.

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New COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa worries scientists

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Peacock also said there was no indication that the variant caused a more deadly disease.

François Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said the high rate of COVID-19 infections in South Africa, and in particular in Gauteng province, was cause for concern.


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Doctors have warned of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada


Doctors have warned of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada – November 8, 2021

“The biggest risk is that (this variant) is more apt to re-infect people while being more transmissible and virulent,” he said in a statement. But Balloux said it was not clear at this point whether this was due to the virus being inherently more infectious.

He pointed out that while it was possible for the new variant to be able to re-infect previously immune people, “we cannot make solid predictions based solely on its genetic makeup on its expected transmissibility or virulence.”

How was this new variant born?

The coronavirus mutates as it spreads and many new variants, including those with disturbing genetic changes, often disappear. Scientists are monitoring COVID-19 sequences for mutations that could make the disease more communicable or fatal, but they cannot determine this simply by examining the virus. They need to compare the disease pattern in outbreaks to genetic sequences and determine if there is a real link may take time.

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Some scientists have speculated that the new variant appeared in an immunocompromised patient due to the large number of mutations. Peacock said the variant “may have evolved in someone who was infected but could not subsequently clear the virus, giving the virus the ability to evolve genetically”, in a scenario similar to how experts believe the alpha variant – which was first identified in England – has also emerged.

Are travel restrictions imposed by certain countries justified?

May be. At noon on Friday, travelers arriving in the UK from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be required to self-isolate for 10 days.

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South Africa criticizes Britain’s ‘rushed’ travel ban over new variant of COVID-19

Given the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 in South Africa, restricting travel from the region is “prudent,” said Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London. He said the new variant has an “unprecedented” number of mutations and said that compared to previous variants, the version newly identified in South Africa could more easily escape current vaccines.

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Balloux of University College London said if the new variant turns out to be more infectious than delta, the new restrictions will have little impact but could still buy the UK time to increase vaccination rates and deploy other possible interventions.

The World Health Organization convened a technical expert group on Friday to assess data from South Africa and decide whether the new variant is worth designation as variant of interest or variant of concern.

The variants of interest – which currently include the mu and lambda variants – have genetic changes known to affect things like transmissibility and disease severity and have been identified to cause large clusters in several countries.


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Doctors have warned of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada


Doctors have warned of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada – November 8, 2021

Worrisome variants – which include alpha, beta, and delta – have been shown to spread more easily, cause more serious disease, or make current tools like vaccines less effective.

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To date, the delta variant remains by far the most transmissible form of COVID; it represents more than 99% of the sequences shared with the largest public database in the world.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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