Explainer: What is this new COVID-19 variant emerging in South Africa? – National

South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is responsible for the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province . It’s not clear where the new variant actually arose, but it was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Health Secretary Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential increase” in cases over the past few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant, has name B.1.1.529 actually causes or not.

From more than 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa has seen the number of daily new cases soar to more than 1,200 on Wednesday and to 2,465 a day later. Trying to explain the sudden increase in cases, scientists studied virus samples from the outbreak and discovered a new variant.

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South African experts say there is no indication so far that this variant causes more severe or unusual disease, and note that as with other variants, some infected people do not have any any symptoms.

Why are scientists worried about this new variant?

It appears to have a large number of mutations – about 30 – in the mutant protein of the coronavirus, which could affect how easily it spreads to humans.

Sharon Peacock, who has led genome sequencing of COVID-19 in the UK at the University of Cambridge, said the data to date shows that the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility”. , but said that “the significance of many of the mutations is still unknown.” She said it will take several weeks to perform the necessary laboratory tests to determine if the current coronavirus vaccine is still viable. effective against the new variant or not.

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New COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa worries scientists

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Peacock also said there is no indication that this variant causes more deadly diseases.

Francois Balloux, Director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London, said the rate of COVID-19 infection in South Africa, and in particular in Gauteng province, was worrying.

Click to play video: 'Doctors warn of Western Canada's new type of COVID-19'

Doctors warn of Western Canada’s new types of COVID-19

Doctors warn of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada – November 8, 2021

“The biggest risk is that[this variant]has a better ability to re-infect humans as well as a greater likelihood of transmission and virulence,” he said in a statement. But Balloux said it was not clear at this stage whether this was due to the virus, which is more infectious.

He stressed that while it is possible that the new variant has the potential to re-infect previously vaccinated individuals, “we cannot make any definite predictions based on genetic makeup alone as to the likelihood of re-infection.” its expected transmission or virulence.”

How did this new variant arise?

Coronavirus mutates as it spreads, and many new variants, including those with disturbing genetic changes, often die off. Scientists track COVID-19 sequences for mutations that could make the disease more contagious or deadly, but they can’t determine that simply by looking at the virus. They have to compare disease patterns in outbreaks with genetic sequences, and sorting out whether there is a real link can take a long time.

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Some scientists have speculated that the new variant emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system due to the large number of mutations. Peacock said the variant “could have evolved in a person who was infected but was then unable to eliminate the virus, giving the virus an opportunity to genetically evolve”, in a scenario similar to how Experts think the alpha variant – first identified in the UK – is also emerging.

Are the travel restrictions being imposed by some countries reasonable?

Probably. As of Friday noon, travelers arriving in the UK from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will have to self-isolate for 10 days.

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South Africa criticizes UK ‘urgent’ travel ban over new COVID-19 variant

Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, said that given the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 in South Africa, it was “cautious” to restrict travel from the region. . He said the new variant had an “unprecedented” number of mutations and said that compared with previous variants, the new version identified in South Africa could more easily evade current vaccines. .

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Balloux of University College London said if the new variant was more infectious than delta, the new restrictions would have little impact but they could still give Britain some time to increase vaccination rates and roll it out. other possible interventions.

The World Health Organization convened a group of technical experts on Friday to evaluate the South African data and decide whether the new variant warrants being designated as a variant of interest or a variant of concern. are not.

The variants of interest – which now include mu and lambda variants – have genetic changes that affect things like transmissibility and severity of the disease and have been identified as causing clusters significantly in many countries.

Click to play video: 'Doctors warn of Western Canada's new type of COVID-19'

Doctors warn of Western Canada’s new types of COVID-19

Doctors warn of new types of COVID-19 in Western Canada – November 8, 2021

The variants of interest – including alpha, beta and delta – have shown they can spread more easily, cause more severe disease, or make current tools such as vaccines less effective.

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The delta variant is by far the most contagious form of COVID; it accounts for more than 99% of sequences shared with the world’s largest public database.

© 2021 Canadian Press


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