Covid: New Heavily Mutated Variant B.1.1.529 In South Africa Raises Concern

A new heavily mutated variant of the novel COVID-19 has been detected in South Africa which has turned a major "cause for concern” for the virologists. The B.1.1.529 variant being described as the "awful spike mutation profile” has now been found in several confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Africa where the Beta variant was detected. This new ‘dangerous’ variant has an "extremely high" number of mutations and scientists are now skeptical about how effective the vaccines will be against it, according to several reports. It has been found that the highly contagious variant B.1.1.529 is at the moment confined to just one province in South Africa, however, the UK on Thursday was quick to place South Africa on the red travel list.

So what’s this new variant of COVID-19, and why is it so concerning?

Variant B.1.1.529 has been detected in at least 50 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in South Africa. It is concerning as the mutation has already reportedly spread in Hong Kong and Botswana. It has a very “unusual constellation of mutations,” according to The Guardian, and is capable of completely evading the body’s immune response, making it highly transmissible, and as suspected by the scientists, more than now dominant Delta variant. Any new mutation of coronavirus that is able to spread faster and evade vaccines is a cause for threat for the world that is battling the deadly delta variant upsurge, particularly Europe that has once again turned into a global epicenter. 

"This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity, and vaccine-susceptibility," UKHSA Chief Executive Jenny Harries told DW. 

How many cases are there, and how is B.1.1.529 different from other variants?

At this time, South Africa has confirmed about 100 specimens of the new deadly B.1.1.529, and cases have already been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, one case of B.1.1.529 was detected in a traveller from South Africa. While the apparent figure of how far this new variant has spread remains unclear, scientists now believe that 90% of new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529, the “worst variant” that has been seen since the start of the pandemic as it has over 32 mutations in the spike protein, that has rattled the science and medical community. “That is about double the number associated with the Delta variant. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’ ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen,” The Guardian explains, citing the scientists and experts. 

READ | 'Covaxin has 65.2% efficacy against Delta variant', says Bharat Biotech after Lancet study

Which countries have already scrambled to impose ‘restrictions’? 

Effective midday Friday, England’s new updated red list travel ban will include South Africa. Mostly the British Airways and Virgin Airlines operate between the two countries bringing an estimated 700 travellers within the UK. Currently, the UK has added six African countries to its travel red list to curb as experts have called the variant the “worst one we’ve seen so far”. The country suspended flights to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe effective from 12 pm, Friday as per British press reports. The World Health Organization (WHO) working group will convene a meeting today to assign this new variant a name from the Greek alphabet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as her country struggles with a mounting caseload of COVID-19 and death toll passed 100,000, on Friday asked the health authorities and incoming government to take quick, decisive action and introduce contact restrictions.   

Source : https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/africa/new-covid-19-heavily-mutated-variant-b-dot-11-dot-529-emerges-in-south-africa-raises-concern.html

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