South African scientists have identified a new variant of COVID-19 with “a very unusual constellation of mutations” that could potentially lead to another wave of cases, officials warned Thursday.
Why is this important: The variant, known as B.1.1.529, has so far been found in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, in a traveler, but could soon spread “everywhere”, the minister said. South African Health, Joe Phaahla.
- Tulio de Oliveira, a professor and geneticist who has studied viral variants of the coronavirus, said in a briefing that the variant has more than 30 mutations and is “clearly very different” from known variants.
- De Oliveira also said the number of mutations was of concern and could allow the variant to evade the immune system.
The big picture: The new variant “probably evolved during chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV / AIDS patient,” François Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a report. communicated.
- World Health Organization officials could give the variant a Greek letter as early as Friday, when the group meets to discuss the results, de Oliveira said.
In numbers : South Africa has started to see an increase in COVID cases, particularly in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.
- More than 1,200 cases were identified in the country on Wednesday, up from nearly 100 cases reported earlier this month.
What they say : “Here is a very concerning mutation variant,” Phaahla said. “We were hoping we could have a longer break between waves – maybe it would be in late December or even next year in January.”
- “You can be assured that as people move in over the next few weeks, this [variant] will be finished, ”Phaahla added.
- “This variant surprised us and it has a lot more mutations than expected,” said de Oliveira. “It is spreading very quickly and we expect to see pressures in the health care system in the coming days and weeks.”
The bottom line: De Oliveira said the full meaning of the variant is uncertain, but vaccines remain an “essential tool to protect us against serious illness.”