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South Africa Covid-19 variant triggers alert: Here's what we know so far

The new Covid-19 variant, identified as B.1.1.529 has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong travellers from South Africa (AP)Premium
The new Covid-19 variant, identified as B.1.1.529 has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong travellers from South Africa (AP)

  • South Africa Covid variant: Some scientists are saying that B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta
  • Virologists have detected almost 100 cases linked to the variant in the country to date

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A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a cause of concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid transmission among young people. The variant, identified as B.1.1.529 has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong travellers from South Africa.

South Africa's health minister said, "Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise," adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases. He said the scientists are working to determine what percentage of the new cases have been caused by the new variant.

South Africa's new Covid-19 variant: What we know so far

  • The new variant has a “constellation" of new mutations, said Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa. It has more than 30 to the spike protein that affects transmissibility.
  • Some scientists are saying that B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta.
  • Number of cases of new variant

Virologists have detected almost 100 cases linked to the variant in the country to date. In Botswana -- a neighbour of South Africa -- the new variant has been detected in vaccinated people.

  • Source of new Covid variant in South Africa

B.1.1.529 is likely to have evolved during chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, said Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute.

  • South Africa Covid-19 cases

South Africa has started to see a renewed surge in Covid-19 case numbers, particularly in the most populous province of Gauteng. There were 2,465 infections recorded on Thursday, up from fewer than 900 two days previously, with the positivity rate -- or the ratio between cases and tests -- rising to 6.5%. Almost 2,000 of the new cases were detected in the hub that including Johannesburg and Pretoria. The new variant already accounts for 75% of the genomes tested in the country.

  • Last year South Africa also detected the Beta variant of the virus, although until now its infection numbers have been driven by the Delta variant, which was originally detected in India
  • What WHO has to say

The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency meeting today, November 26 to discuss the potentially rapidly spreading new South African strain.

  • UK cancels flight

The UK has decided to ban flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries (Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Botswana)  temporarily over worries about a new, dramatically different Covid-19 variant. 

  • How will India track the new variant? 

The Indian government has also asked states to take caution and accelerate the testing process of international passengers, especially those travelling from African countries. Yesterday Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote a letter to the additional Secretary, principal Secretary, secretary of health of all states and Union Territories to adhere to strict implementation of the Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate measures. The Health Secretary said that all the international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries are subject to "rigorous screening and testing", as per the health ministry's guidelines.

 

  • The states will have to send the samples of travellers turning positive to designated labs of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG), that tracks and monitors emergence and transmission of Covid-19 variants of concerns and variants of interests in India. 

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