Scientists in South Africa have identified a new COVID-19 variant with “a very unusual constellation of mutations” that could potentially drive another wave of cases, officials warned on Thursday.
why it matters: South African Health Minister Joe Fahla said the variant, known as B.1.1529, has so far been detected in a traveler in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, but could soon spread “all over”.
- Tulio de Oliveira, a professor and geneticist who has studied viral coronavirus variants, said in a briefing That variant has over 30 mutations and is “clearly very different” from the known variants.
- De Oliveira also stated that the number of mutations was related and that this may allow the variant to evade the immune system.
big picture: François Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said the new variant “possibly developed during a chronic infection of an immune-compromised individual in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.” said in a statement,
- De Oliveira said World Health Organization officials could hand the Greek letter to Variant as soon as Friday, when the group meets to discuss the findings.
By numbers: South Africa has started to see a rise in COVID cases, especially in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng.
- More than 1,200 cases were identified in the country on Wednesday, up from the days when cases neared 100 earlier this month.
What are they saying: “Here’s a mutation version of the serious concern,” Fahla said. “We expected that we might have a long break between the waves – possibly it would stop by the end of December or even January next year.”
- “You can rest assured that as people move forward over the next coming weeks, this [variant] Everything will be over,” Fahla said.
- “This variant surprised us and has many more mutations than expected,” de Oliveira said. “It’s spreading very fast and we expect to see pressure in the healthcare system over the next few days and weeks.”
Bottom-line: De Oliveira said the full significance of the variant is uncertain, but that vaccines remain “an important tool to protect against serious disease”.