Scientists in South Africa detect a new variant of Covid-19 that represents a ‘great threat’


Scientists from South Africa said Thursday that they had detected a new variant of Covid-19 with multiple mutations, blaming it for an increase in the number of infections.

“Unfortunately, we have detected a new variant that is cause for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a hastily convened press conference.

The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it is causing a resurgence of infections,” he said.

It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, he said.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variance was of “grave concern” and was behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat.”

Daily infections soared to more than 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 100 earlier this month.

Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted that a fourth wave would reach South Africa from mid-December, fueled by travel ahead of the holiday season.

The government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the B.1.1.529 variant were recorded in the country after genomic sequencing.

It said in a statement Thursday that detected cases and the percentage of positive tests are “increasing rapidly” in three of the country’s provinces, including Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

A cluster outbreak was recently identified, concentrated at a higher education institute in the capital Pretoria, the NICD said.

Last year South Africa also detected the Beta variant of the virus, although so far its infection figures have been driven by the Delta variant, which was originally detected in India.

The country has the highest number of pandemics in Africa with around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.

Ten mutations

The scientists said that the new B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta.

“What we are concerned about (is) that this variant could not only have improved transmissibility, so it will spread more efficiently, but it could also bypass parts of the immune system and the protection that we have in our immune system,” he said. the investigator. Richard Lessells.

So far, it has been observed that the variant is spreading especially among young people.

But the next few days and weeks will be key in determining the severity of the variant, Lessells said.

Neutralizing the variant is “complicated by the number of mutations that this variant contains,” said one of the scientists, Penny Moore.

“This variant contains many mutations that we are not familiar with,” he added.

After a rather slow start to South Africa’s vaccination campaign, about 41 percent of adults have received at least a single dose, while 35 percent are fully vaccinated.