Friday Nov 26, 2021
A new mutation of the coronavirus, being dubbed as the “South African variant” has been discovered, causing much concern in countries around the world about its spread and fatality rates.
How worried should countries be which are already battling to keep vaccination numbers high and infections low?
Here is what we know so far:
Known as B.1.1.529, the variant has a very “unusual constellation of mutations,” which could help it make it more transmissible and evade the body’s immune response, The Guardian reported.
According to UK Health Security Agency chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins, the effective reproduction number of the B.1.1.529 was now 2 — a level of transmission not recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.
The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising fears about how current vaccines will fare.
It is pertinent to mention here that for an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow “exponentially” as any new variant which can evade vaccines or spread faster can pose a significant threat as the world emerges from the pandemic.
Per initial reports, the new variant has reportedly increased in South Africa's Gauteng province and chances are it may already be present in the other eight provinces of the country.
Scientists in South Africa have detected 100 cases as B.1.1.529 and believe that 90% of the new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529.
The strain is of "serious concern" and has been blamed for a surge in infections, the authorities in South Africa have said.
South African scientists suspect the sudden spike in infections in the country is linked to the new variant, but it is not clear how far it has spread beyond its borders.
It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, as well as in Belgium.
The Guardian cited senior scientists describing the new South African variant as the “worst variant that had seen since the start of the pandemic.”
Per early testing it has been found that B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations in the spike protein — the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID-19.
Basically, mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread and also makes it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
After the new South African variant was detected, Israel said it was raising a "red flag" and imposing a series of emergency measures to protect its heavily vaccinated population.
The EU and Britain are among those tightening border controls as researchers sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.
Meanwhile, England placed South Africa under its “red list”. The travel ban will also include flights from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, Scotland issued orders that all arrivals from the countries must self-isolate and take two PCR tests from midday on Friday, while the rest of the travellers arriving after 4am on Saturday will need to stay at a managed quarantine hotel.
Other countries that have suspended flights include Germany, Japan, France, Bahrain and the Czech Republic.
— With additional input from AFP