New COVID variant found in South Africa, UK enforces new travel bans The B.1.1.529 variant has infected 22 people in South Africa. Scientists don't yet know if it's more dangerous or vaccine-resistant than Delta.

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The B.1.1.1.529 variant has infected 22 people in South Africa. Scientists do not yet know whether it is more dangerous or vaccine-resistant than Delta.

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A new COVID variant has been discovered in South Africa, and fears it may be more transmissible and vaccine-resistant than the delta version have led to both Britain and Israel blocking travel to southern Africa.

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The variant is known as B.1.1.529, and was first identified in South Africa on Tuesday. Scientists quickly became concerned with the new version because of the high number of mutations. Their concern is that vaccines designed to target previous COVID forms may be less effective. As of Thursday, there are 22 known cases of B.1.1,529, according to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. It has also been found in Botswana, neighboring South Africa to the north, and Hong Kong.

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“This edition took us by surprise,” director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation sequencing platform Tulio de Oliveira told the New York Times. “This is a huge leap forward in evolution, with many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of delta,” Tulio de Oliveira said.

Whether these mutations will translate into a more dangerous, transmissible and vaccine-resistant form of COVID is yet unknown.

“We don’t know much about it yet,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for COVID, said in a live stream on Thursday. “What we do know is that this variant carries a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an effect on the behavior of the virus.”

“It will take us a few weeks to understand what impact this version will have.”

On Thursday, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that South Africa and five other southern African countries, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, would enter the UK’s travel red list. Flights to those countries are being stopped, while passengers returning to the UK from those countries will have to be quarantined. Israel has done the same and has included Mozambique, the sixth country in its list.

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