UPDATED with news from WHO: The UK added six African countries to its travel quarantine list on Thursday after a new, potentially more transmissible variant of COVID-19-19 was identified there. The BBC said that countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Twenty-two positive cases of the variant, which is called B.1.1.529, have been registered in South Africa, according to various reports. Some 59 cases have been detected worldwide, and only in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. But some experts are concerned.
“This variant did surprise us,” Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. saying the New York Times. “It has a big leap in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta [variant]. “
The World Health Organization has called a special meeting for Friday to discuss the new variant and what it could mean for Covid treatment and vaccines.
“We don’t know much about this yet,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid, said in a question and answer session streamed live on social media. “What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves. “
The UK Health Security Agency also has its eyes on B.1.1.529:
COVID-19 UPDATE:@UKHSA is researching a new variant. More data is needed, but now we are taking precautions.
Starting at noon tomorrow, six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and travelers from the UK must be quarantined.
– Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 25, 2021
The new variant has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, raising fears of increased transmissibility, according to a South African researcher cited by the Times. The new variant has only 10 mutations in the ACE2 receptor, helping the virus to enter cells. That’s five times more mutations in that structure than the Delta variant exhibits, according to the researcher.
In Botswana, the Ministry of Health confirmed that four cases of B.1.1.529 fully vaccinated patients were found. The only case in Hong Kong was brought there by a traveler from South Africa, according to multiple reports.
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a declaration Today, “the cases detected and the percentage of positive tests are increasing rapidly, particularly in Gauteng, Northwest and Limpopo. [provinces]. Seventy-one percent of new cases today are from Gauteng, which represents about 25% of the country’s population, the statement said. In Gauteng, case rates are increasing rapidly and the test positivity is 31.7%. In comparison, in California it is below 2%.
“Although data is limited, our experts are working overtime with all established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the possible implications could be. Advances are occurring at a rapid pace and the public is confident that we will keep them updated, ”said Professor Adrian Puren, Acting Executive Director of NICD.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.