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Coronvirus: Variant with 82 cases causes concern

TORONTO – A UK scientist is documenting a COVID-19 variant that originated in Botswana with a staggering number of mutations, despite only 82 confirmed cases so far.

Variant B.1.1.529 was first detected in the South African country and has since been detected in South Africa and in a tourist in Hong Kong who had been to South Africa. During a briefing on Thursday, South African officials reported 82 cases of the variant, 77 in South Africa.

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said earlier this week that its potential was remarkable given its 32 mutant mutations, despite only 10 confirmed cases at the time. there.

“Exporting to Asia means this could be more widely available than sequences,” Peacock wrote on a genome-sharing website. “Also, the extremely long branch lengths and extremely high spike spike numbers suggest this can be really worrisome.”

Mutations in the mutated protein, or spike spike, can change the way the virus infects and spreads into cells. These mutations can also make it harder for the body’s immune system to attack it.

The World Health Organization currently lists B.1.1.529 as a “variant under observation”, which falls under the agency’s classifications of “variant of interest” and “variant of concern”.

On Thursday, the UK announced it would ban flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini as a precautionary measure. Travelers returning from these countries will be subject to quarantine.

Dr Peter Juni, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Panel, told CTV News Channel on Thursday that these cases are why the border control is important.

“The combination of two doses of the vaccine and a negative test – it can also be a rapid test – is just a good defense against importing these types of variants into the country,” he said. woke up too early”. “It’s happened before with Alpha, it’s happened with Delta, we don’t want it again.”

In one Twitter thread about variationPeacock calls the spike spike configuration “terrible”, but emphasizes that the lower-case numbers make it just something worth keeping an eye on at the moment.

“It’s worth emphasizing that this is super low right now in an area of ​​Africa that’s pretty well sampled, but it’s very much in need of monitoring given that monstrous spike record,” he said. he say.

“Perhaps this is just a strange cluster that cannot be transmitted. I hope so, ” he wrote in another tweet.

Francois Balloux, professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London said in a statement that B.1.1.529 has an “unusual constellation of mutations” and is likely to evolve during prolonged infection of an immunocompromised person.

“I would certainly expect it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing Alpha or Delta related antibodies,” he wrote. “It’s very difficult to predict how transmissible it might be at this stage.”

Balloux says the variation isn’t one to be overly concerned about, unless “it starts to increase in frequency in the near future.”

For Juni, this new variant is something to keep an eye on, but not yet one to make drastic tweaks to.

“It’s important to monitor it, but we shouldn’t be too worried right now,” he said.

“Let’s remember (the virus) really gets into the immune system – that’s one aspect – but it’s also about how it’s transmitted to other people and how contagious it is. So when you just take all of that into account, we’ll see what happens.”

With files from Reuters

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