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New Covid-19 Variant: Here’s what we know about the new variant detected in South Africa

News Link: New Covid-19 Variant: Here’s what we know about the new variant detected in South Africa – by ND News Desk

Global authorities have reacted with alarm to a coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, with the EU, Britain, and India among those announcing stricter border controls as scientists seek to determine if the mutation is vaccine-resistant.

When and where was this new variant found?

South African scientists detected a small number of the variant – called B.1.1.529 – on Tuesday, in samples from November 14-16.

On Wednesday, South African scientists sequenced more genomes, informed the government that they were concerned, and asked the World Health Organization to convene its technical working group on virus evolution for Friday.

The country has identified around 100 cases of the variant, mostly from its most populated province, Gauteng.

Where else has it been identified?

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

The country’s daily infection rate nearly doubled on Thursday to 2,465. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) did not attribute the resurgence to the new variant, though local scientists suspect it is the cause.

Botswana detected four cases, all foreigners who arrived on a diplomatic mission and have since left the country.

Hong Kong has one case, in a traveler from South Africa and in Israel one in a traveler returning from Malawi.

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

What has the World Health Organisation said?

The UN agency will decide if it should be designated a variant of interest or variant of concern. The latter label would be applied if there is evidence that it is more contagious and vaccines work less well against it, and it would be given a Greek name.

The WHO has so far identified four variants – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.

Two variants of interest are Lambda, identified in Peru in December 2020, and Mu, in Colombia in January.

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