What we know about the new variant of COVID-19 detected in South Africa – .

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What we know about the new variant of COVID-19 detected in South Africa – .


JOHANNESBURG / LONDON, November 26 (Reuters) – Authorities around the world have reacted with concern to a new variant of the coronavirus detected in South Africa.

Britain, the European Union and India are among those announcing tighter border controls as scientists run tests to determine if the mutation is more transmissible or infectious than other variants, or if it is resistant to vaccines.

WHERE AND WHEN WAS A NEW VARIANT FOUND?

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South African scientists on Tuesday detected a small number of the variant known as B.1.1.529 in samples taken from November 14 to 16.

South African scientists sequenced other genomes on Wednesday, informed the government of their concern and asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene its technical working group on the evolution of the virus on Friday.

The country has identified around 100 cases of the variant, mostly in its most populous province, Gauteng, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located.

WHY IS THIS CONCERNING SCIENTISTS?

All viruses – including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – change over time. Most of the changes have little or no impact on their properties.

However, some changes can affect how easily they spread, how severe they are, or how vaccines perform against them.

This variant has come under special scrutiny because it contains more than 30 mutations of the spike protein that viruses use to enter human cells, according to UK health officials.

That’s about double the number of the Delta variant and makes it significantly different from the original coronavirus that current COVID vaccines were designed to counter.

South African scientists say some of the mutations are associated with resistance to neutralizing antibodies and increased transmissibility, but others were not well understood, so its full significance is not yet clear.

UK Health Security Agency chief medical adviser Susan Hopkins told BBC radio that some mutations had never been seen before, so it was unclear how they would interact with others, resulting in makes the most complex variant observed to date.

Other tests will therefore be necessary to confirm if it is more transmissible, infectious or if it can escape vaccines.

The work will take a few weeks, said Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer on COVID-19 on Thursday. In the meantime, vaccines remain an essential tool for containing the virus.

No unusual symptoms have been reported following infection with the B.1.1.529 variant and, as with other variants, some people are asymptomatic, the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases said ( NICD).

O ELSEWHERE HAS THE VARIANT BEEN DETECTED?

South African scientists say the first signs from diagnostic labs suggest it has spread rapidly in Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces.

Daily infections in South Africa nearly doubled Thursday to 2,465. The NICD did not attribute the resurgence to the new variant, although local scientists suspect the cause.

Neighboring Botswana said it has detected four cases, all foreigners who arrived on diplomatic missions and have since left the country.

Hong Kong has one case, a traveler from South Africa, Israel also has one, a traveler returning from Malawi to southern Africa, while Belgium has detected the first case in Europe.

Scientists say early detection due to genomic surveillance in Botswana and South Africa may have limited the spread of the variant.

The GISAID international open database of coronavirus variants has 58 cases of B.1.1.529 registered in South Africa, six in Botswana and two in Hong Kong.

The variant is relatively easy to distinguish in PCR tests from the Delta variant, the dominant and most infectious COVID-19 mutation to date. Unlike the Delta variant, it has a mutation known as S gene drop.

However, this is not a unique identifier as the Alpha variant, first identified in Britain, also has this mutation.

HOW DOES THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION LABEL THE VARIANTS?

The United Nations agency said on Friday that its advisers had recommended that the variant be designated as Concern, its most serious level, and that it be given the Greek name Omicron.

The latter label is applied if it is proven to be more contagious or more virulent or that vaccines work less well against it, or has a combination of these characteristics, and it is given a Greek name, the website says. ‘WHO.

WHO has identified four other variants of concern – Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

He named two interesting variants, which is the lower tier: Lambda, identified in Peru in December 2020, and Mu, in Colombia in January.

This means that they have had genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect characteristics of the virus such as transmissibility, disease severity, or the ability to evade vaccines and drugs.

It would also mean that it has caused significant community transmission or multiple clusters of COVID-19 in several countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside an increasing number of cases over time and is an emerging risk to public health.

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Reporting by Alistair Smout in London, Alexander Winning, Tim Cocks and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Writing by Joséphine Mason; Editing by John Stonestreet and David Clarke

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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