New COVID variant found in South Africa
South Africa's health minister revealed on Thursday the identification of a novel coronavirus type that looks to be swiftly spreading across the country.
"Initially, it appeared to be some cluster outbreaks, but yesterday, our scientists from the Network of Genomic Surveillance indicated that they were observing a new variant," Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said, emphasizing that it is currently unknown where the variant, currently dubbed B.1.1.529, first emerged.
It has so far been found in South Africa, Botswana, and a South African tourist to Hong Kong, according to Phaahla.
During a news conference, genetic experts stated that the variety contains an extremely high number of mutations, with more than 30 in the crucial spike protein – the component that the virus utilizes to enter the cells it attacks.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, head of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, stated that the variation has "many more mutations than we expected," and that it is "growing extremely rapidly," adding that "pressure in the health system is predicted in the next days and weeks."
He recommended the general populace to "avoid super spreading occurrences."
Officials also voiced worry that the change might lead to immune evasion and increased viral transmissibility but stressed that it is too early to determine what effect the alterations will have on vaccination efficacy. More research is also needed to establish the clinical severity of the mutation in comparison to earlier variants, according to authorities.
"The actual impact of this mutation remains unknown, and the best instrument we still have is vaccinations," De Oliveira added. He stated that further lab experiments are needed to assess vaccination and antibody evasion.