What do we know about the new covid strain found in South Africa? | News about the coronavirus

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A new variant of COVID-19 discovery in South Africa with a large number of mutations has caused concern among researchers and triggered travel restrictions in a number of countries amid fears of transmission of coronavirus.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said that 22 positive cases of the new variant have been registered in the country after genomic sequencing. The news of the announcement came on Thursday.

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it a “major threat”.

What do we know about the new variant?

The new COVID-19 variant, called B.1.1.529, has a very unusual constellation of mutations, which is worrying because they can help it avoid the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, researchers have said.

South African researchers have discovered more than 30 mutations in the nail protein, the part of the virus that helps create a entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells.

Tulio de Oliveira, head of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said the variant has puzzled experts. “It has great hope in evolution, many more mutations than we expected,” said de Oliveira.

In comparison, Beta and Delta variant has three and two mutations, respectively. The latter originated in India and caused devastating second wave last year.

“The only good news is that it can be detected with a PCR test,” they added Oliveira.

The mutations are associated with increased antibody resistance, which makes the virus more contagious.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said they were “closely monitoring” the reported variant and are expected to meet on Friday to decide whether it should be described as a variant of “interest” or “concern”.

Are covid-19 vaccines effective against the new variant?

Covid-19 vaccines are based on the original nail protein from the coronavirus, which raises concerns that the new dramatically different nail protein may make vaccines less effective.

Maria Van Kerkhove, head of Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis at the WHO, said on Thursday that “the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.”

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand the effect of this variant on any vaccines,” Van Kerkhove added.

Any new variant that can avoid vaccines or spread faster than the now dominant Delta variant can pose a significant threat when the world emerges from the pandemic.

But Professor Helen Rees, from the WHO’s African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group, urged people not to panic.

“[Currently] we try to identify how widespread this is. It will be a lot of work to look at: Is it more transferable? Is it associated with a more serious illness? Does that make the vaccines less effective? ” Rees told Al Jazeera.

“Meanwhile, our big request to the world, when it comes to vaccinating the African region, is to please get the vaccines out in the region because variants that we know do not stay in one country,” she added.

Detection and response

The variant has spread rapidly through the Gauteng province of South Africa, home to the economic hub of Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

A total of about 50 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. The confirmed cases in Botswana and Hong Kong were discovered among travelers from South Africa.

In response, Britain banned all travel from the country and five other southern African nations, namely Botwsana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe from lunchtime local time on Friday.

Israel also announced on Thursday that it is preventing its citizens from traveling to South Africa. It also included Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini to its high-risk travel list.

The EU’s executive has proposed that air travel from southern Africa be stopped to counter the spread of the new variant.

Has the frequency of infection increased?

The number of daily infections in Africa’s hardest-hit countries has increased tenfold since the beginning of the month.

The NICD said the number of cases detected and the percentage who tested positive were “increasing rapidly” in three of the country’s provinces, including Gauteng.

The NICD did not attribute the recent emergence to the new variant, although some researchers suspect that may be the cause.

The country’s daily number of infections reached 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 106 earlier in the month.

Prior to the discovery of the new variant, the authorities had predicted that a fourth wave would hit South Africa ahead of the Christmas season, starting around mid-December.

South Africa has the highest pandemics in Africa with about 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.

Last year, the beta variant of the virus first appeared in South Africa, although the number of infections so far has been driven by Delta.

About 41 percent of the adults have received at least one dose, while 35 percent are fully vaccinated. These figures are well above the continental average of 6.6 percent of those vaccinated.

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