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South Africa finds new variant of COVID-19 with ‘constellation of mutations’

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South Africa finds new variant of COVID-19 with ‘constellation of mutations’

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A new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in South Africa, troubling scientists who say the strain has a high number of mutations and is probably already causing a surge in new cases around Johannesburg.

The variant, called variant B1.1.529 until the World Health Organization decides to assign it a letter of the Greek alphabet, is linked to 22 positive cases in South Africa so far, as well as to cases in Hong Kong and Botswana among travelers to the country.

“You can be assured that as people move in over the next few weeks, this [variant] will be over, ”South African Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla said at a press conference on Thursday. “In the last four or five days there has been a more exponential increase [in cases]. “

Several variants of COVID-19 have been of concern as the virus mutates, including the highly transmissible delta strain. Mutations are a major fear among health officials, who fear that new strains of the coronavirus will bypass the effectiveness of vaccines that have helped reopen society and limited serious illness and death among those vaccinated.

Tulio de Oliveira, a professor at the South African Genomic Surveillance Network, said the new variant announced on Thursday had a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” including more than 30 mutations in its spike proteins, which are responsible for transmissibility. virus.

“We can see that the variant is potentially spreading very quickly,” de Oliveira said during the briefing, according to the AP. “We expect to see pressure in the healthcare system in the coming days and weeks. “

Cases in South Africa had remained low in recent months, but the country faces a new wave of infections that have grown rapidly this week. More than 1,200 cases were discovered on Wednesday, a figure that jumped to nearly 2,500 on Thursday.

The WHO technical working group will meet on Friday on the new variant to evaluate it. But the UK government took immediate action amid concerns over its spread, banning flights from South Africa and five other African countries from noon on Friday. Those who have recently arrived from the nations will have to take a test.

Phaahla said the latest wave should encourage South Africans to re-focus on immunization to prevent COVID-19 infection, calling the jabs a “critical tool” to end the pandemic.

“The point is, we also have an additional tool, which is vaccination, which will help us avoid serious illness and end up in hospitals, intensive care and succumb to this virus,” Phaahla said.

About 41% of South Africans have been fully immunized against the coronavirus.

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