Coronavirus Variant Detected In South Africa Scares Scientists And WHO


Coronavirus: On Thursday (25), scientists announced the detection of a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in South Africa, named B.1.1.529. South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases were quickly confirmed — new cases continue to be confirmed as test results come out. The variant has also been found in Botswana, and in Hong Kong with a South African traveler.

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One of the great dangers of the new strain is its mutations, as it can change, become more transmissible and even escape the human body’s immune response. So far, scientists have observed 32 mutations in the spike protein, a spine-like structure that coats the virus and helps it infect a healthy person.

“Although data is limited, our experts are working overtime with all established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications might be,” said NICD Executive Director Adrian Puren.

Serious situation alerted WHO

After the scientists’ revelation, the South African government requested an urgent meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss the evolution of the variant and how to prevent new infections. To date, less than 30% of the South African population has completed both doses and this could be a concern for the WHO as there is more scope for the strain to spread among the thousands of unvaccinated.

Even after the revelation of the new discovery, the government of the United Kingdom placed South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe on the list of travel restrictions due to the pandemic – effective as of this Friday (26). In other words, commercial flights departing the United Kingdom to the aforementioned countries will be prohibited and with no return forecast.

“We know that B.1.1.529 has many more mutations than other variants and has mutations seen in other variants that are associated with greater transmissibility and immune escape. It is the number and type of mutations that are worrying virologists and immunologists,” said Professor Christina Pagel.

Unfortunately, to date, scientists do not know if the variant is capable of bypassing the protections of complete immunization cycles.

This Friday morning (26), Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) recommended to the Brazilian government that temporary restrictions be created on the entry into the country of travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Swatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe to contain the spread of the variant.