New Covid-19 variant with high mutations – what we know so far

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SA has recorded a new Covid-19 variant ahead of the looming fourth wave of infections. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
SA has recorded a new Covid-19 variant ahead of the looming fourth wave of infections. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images


Yet another Covid-19 variant has been discovered in South Africa. While case numbers globally are exceptionally low, the variant’s high mutation capabilities are being monitored closely.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed the presence of the new variant in South Africa.

Its emergence comes ahead of the anticipated fourth wave in South Africa, which has been forecast for the summer holiday period.

READ: Is a post-election Covid-19 surge on the cards for SA?

Covid-19 cases driven by the new variant, known as B.1.1.529 were also recorded in Botswana and Hong Kong.

Professor Adrian Puren, NICD acting executive director, said:

It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa.

“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”

Detected cases and percent of the population testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo.

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the division of public health surveillance and response at the NICD says that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples.

She stressed the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practise healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing and gather in well ventilated spaces.

“Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant.”

The Guardian has reported that, to date, only 10 cases in three countries have been confirmed via genomic sequencing.

This variant is said to have 32 mutations.

Dr Thomas Peacock, a virologist at the Imperial College London, posted details of the new variant on a genome-sharing website.

He explained that the high spike mutations could lead to this variant evading immunity. However, further genome sequencing and monitoring of the variant will provide further insight into whether it is in fact a cause for concern.

“Currently only four sequences so would recommend monitoring for now. Export to Asia implies this might be more widespread than sequences alone would imply. Also, the extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern (predicted escape from most known monoclonal antibodies),” Peacock wrote.


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