Scientists and health authorities in South Africa confirmed this Thursday the detection of a new variant of the coronavirus, identified as B.1.1.529, which has multiple mutations and which aroused “concern” among specialists, although its impact has yet to be studied. “Unfortunately, we have detected a new variant that is of concern in South Africa,” said the virologist. Tulio de Oliveira at a press conference.
The new strain features “a very unusual constellation of mutations”But its “meaning is still uncertain,” explained the specialist who is also a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Sequencing Innovation Platform (KRISP, a scientific institution in eastern South Africa).
In total, so far, cases of this variant have been confirmed in South Africa, Hong Kong (in a traveler from the African nation) and neighboring Botswana, according to data provided by the South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
In total, B.1.1.529 has more than thirty mutations and some of them are, according to South African scientists, cause for concern due to its possible impact on transmissibility and its potential ability to evade previous immunity or protection. “The variant surprised us, it has a great evolutionary leap, many more variants than we expected, especially after a third wave of very severe delta (variant)”said Oliveira, adding that “we could potentially see this variant expand very quickly,” according to data collected in the South African province of Gauteng (where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located), where in recent days the number of cases of COVID-19 increased significantly.
The South African specialists emphasized, however, that the detection of this new variant has been done “very, very early” and were optimistic that this favors the control of its expansion.
Oliveira also indicated that they hope that the World Health Organization (WHO) will give a new Greek letter name to this variant, as it was done with the rest; and stressed that, although B.1.1.529 was detected for the first time in South Africa, it does not necessarily mean that it originated in this southern country.
To date, South Africa has racked up some 2.95 million COVID-19 cases with nearly 90,000 deaths. The nation is the epicenter of the pandemic within the African continent and has already suffered the effects of the discovery and expansion of another variant, the beta, during its second wave (between late 2020 and early 2021), which was later swept away by the variant. delta in the third wave (mid-2021). The infections soared to more than 1,200 cases on Wednesday, against about 100 daily at the beginning of the current month, although scientists believe it is too early to know if there is a link with the new variant.
The discovery of this variant occurred in an analysis on November 23, from samples taken between November 14 and 16 after an increase in the number of cases detected in Johannesburg and Pretoria. “We did not want this to be around as a rumor,” emphasized the South African Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, at the same press conference.
In fact, the new variant had been advanced on Tuesday by Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, who posted the details on a streaming forum and on Twitter. This specialist described the 32 mutations of the variant as “extremely high.” The Delta variant, now dominant worldwide, is 16. It is essentially the virus’s “tricks” that allow it to adapt and do different things, such as becoming more communicable, escaping vaccines, or becoming more lethal. It is not known if B.1.1.529 is more transmissible or could outperform Delta.
“Exporting to Asia implies that this could be more widespread than the sequences alone would imply. Furthermore, the extremely long branch length and the incredibly high number of peak mutations suggest that this could be a real concern (escape predicted from most known monoclonal antibodies), “Peacock argued, describing the mutation profile as” really shocking “and” horrible. “
Last year South Africa detected the Beta variant, but now the number of infections has rebounded from the Delta, originally detected in India.