We could potentially in the next 5-7 weeks re-enter lockdown globallySTOP panic-mongering
‘Serious concern’ as South Africa detects new coronavirus variant
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the variant is behind an ‘exponential’ increase in COVID infections.
South African scientists have detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers and are working to understand its potential implications.
The variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing.
“Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a news conference.
The variant “has a very high number of mutations”, he said. “It’s unfortunately causing a resurgence of infections,” he added.
It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he said.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”.
Daily infections jumped to more than 1,200 on Wednesday, up from about 100 earlier this month.
Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted a fourth wave to hit South Africa starting around the middle of December, buoyed by travel ahead of the festive season.
The NICD said in a statement Thursday that detected cases and the percentage testing positive are “increasing quickly” in three of the country’s provinces including Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
A cluster outbreak was recently identified, concentrated at a higher education institute in the capital Pretoria, the NICD said.
“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” it said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, South Africa has recorded about 2.95 million cases of COVID-19, of which 89,657 have been fatal.
Scientists said the new B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta or three for Beta.
“What gives us some concerns (is) that this variant might have not just have enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” said researcher Richard Lessells.
So far the variant has been seen spreading especially among young people.
But the coming days and weeks will be key to determining the severity of the variant, Lessells said.
Professor Helen Rees, of the WHO’s African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group, urged people not to panic.
“[Currently] we are trying to identify how widely spread this is. There will be a lot of work looking at: Is it more transmissible? Is it associated with any more severity of disease? Does it render the vaccines less effective?” Rees told Al Jazeera.
“In the meantime, our big request to the world, in terms of vaccinating the African region, is please get the vaccines out into the region because as we know variants don’t stay in one country,” she added.
South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization (WHO) working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.
Health Minister Phaahla said it was too early to say whether the government would impose tougher restrictions in response to the variant.
South Africa was the first country to detect the Beta variant last year.
Beta is one of only four labelled “of concern” by the WHO because there is evidence that it is more contagious and vaccines work less well against it.
every new mutation (of any virus) is meant to be a little more resistant than its parentIt is apparently vaccine resistant
stop it already. once you people are challenged you double-down like a khisyani billi khamba noche instead of relentingI don't think this one is just little resistant as it has 10 mutations unlike the Indian variant and this new one may have reached India already which needs to be addressed borders needs to be closed once again but we will have to wait and see how things develop in the next few days
More false flagging and fear mongering, this is beyond insane. I seriously hope people don't fall for this crap again.What do we know about the new ‘worst ever’ Covid variant?
UK places South Africa on red travel list over B.1.1.529 variant picked up by scientists in country
Andrew Gregory and Tom Ambrose
Thu 25 Nov 2021 21.13 GMT
What is the new variant and why is it a concern?
Scientists have detected a new Covid-19 variant called B.1.1.529 and are working to understand its potential implications. About 50 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
B.1.1.529 has a very unusual constellation of mutations, which are worrying because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists have said. Any new variant that is able to evade vaccines or spread faster than the now-dominant Delta variant might pose a significant threat as the world emerges from the pandemic.
Where exactly has it been found?
Early signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest the variant has rapidly increased in the South African province of Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces.
In a regular daily update on confirmed cases nationally, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 2,465 new Covid-19 infections, slightly less than double the previous day’s infections. The NICD did not attribute the latest resurgence to the new variant, although some leading local scientists suspect it is the cause.
South Africa has confirmed about 100 specimens as B.1.1.529 but the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveller from South Africa. As many as 90% of new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529, scientists believe.
How does it compare to other variants?
Senior scientists on Thursday evening described B.1.1.529 as the worst variant they had seen since the start of the pandemic. It has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid. That is about double the number associated with the Delta variant. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
The Delta variant was first detected in India in late 2020 but has since spread around the world, causing an increase in case rates and deaths. Other coronavirus variants include Alpha (which originated in Kent in the UK), Beta (formerly known as the South African variant) and Gamma (originally found in Brazil). It has been suggested, following a drop in cases in Japan, that variants can “mutate themselves out of existence”.
What new restrictions are being imposed?
South Africa will be placed under England’s red list travel restrictions from midday on Friday – affecting between 500 and 700 people who typically travel to the UK from South Africa each day via operators including British Airways and Virgin Airlines.
The ban will also cover flights from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.
Recent arrivals from southern Africa will also be tracked down and offered tests in an effort to avoid the introduction of the new strain.
Israel also announced it will ban its citizens from travelling to southern Africa – covering the same six countries as well as Mozambique – and barring the entry of foreign travellers from the region.
England’s travel red list had remained empty since the final seven countries, including Peru, Colombia and Panama, were removed on 1 November. South Africa had been removed on 11 October, meaning vaccinated travellers were able to visit the country once again without having to quarantine in a hotel on their return.
What does the new variant mean for the UK and what might it mean for Christmas?
It is too early to tell. Scientists in the UK are working around the clock to understand more about the new variant. Because the variant has only recently emerged, scientists do not yet have evidence of its transmissibility or ability to evade vaccines. With a month to go until Christmas, there will be concerns that the variant – if it is allowed to spread – could trigger the need for further restrictions.
It could be a few weeks before scientists have complete information about the variant – and how serious a threat it may pose to the world.
Is there anything I can do to protect myself?
Yes. The advice remains to get vaccinated if you have not done so already. Britons who are aged 40 and above and received their second dose of their vaccine at least six months ago are currently eligible to have their booster now.