Saturday, December 4

Covid-19: What we know about the new variant detected in South Africa

A new variant has recently been detected in South Africa. According to the first analyzes of the health authorities, it is spreading very quickly, and the country is already seeing the beginnings of a new epidemic wave.

How many cases have already been detected?

So far, 22 cases of this new variant have been identified in South Africa, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. In addition, other patients have also been found in Botswana, a neighboring country, but also in Hong Kong, where a person returning from a trip to South Africa has tested positive for this new variant.

Is it more transmissible?

With its scientific name B.1.1.529, this new form of SARS-CoV-2 has an “extremely high” number of mutations, according to South African experts. Changes to the original virus that can actually make it more transmissible, such as the Delta variant. At a health ministry press conference, virologist Tulio de Oliveira said, “we can see that it has the potential to spread very quickly.”

Scientists note that “the number of cases detected and the percentage of positive tests are increasing rapidly”, without being able to officially attribute this increase in contamination to this new variant for the moment.

Is it resistant to vaccines?

Faced with its large number of mutations, scientists are worried about a potential resistance to the vaccine, but they do not have more information on this subject for the moment.

“What concerns us is that this variant might not only have an increased transmission capacity, but also be able to bypass parts of our immune system,” said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.

However, one of the members of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the African Union tempered, recalling that “there are many variants but some do not affect the progression of the epidemic”. The WHO will therefore meet this Friday to determine the dangerousness of this new variant.

Towards a new epidemic wave

Health officials have seen a sharp increase in infections in recent weeks, which they initially attributed to the circulation of the Delta variant, also highly contagious. This new variant B.1.1.529, described as a “major threat” by the South African Minister of Health, could therefore also contribute to the increase in contamination.

Scientists have therefore warned hospitals and other health establishments to expect a new wave of patients in the coming weeks. Fears of a new wave reinforced by the country’s low vaccination coverage: only 35% of eligible adults have received all their doses of vaccine.

Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has recorded around 2.9 million cases, resulting in 89,600 deaths. More than 1,200 new cases in twenty-four were recorded Wednesday, against a hundred at the beginning of the month.

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