Scientists in South Africa on Thursday identified a dangerous new variant of the coronavirus with mutations that, according to one scientist, marked a “great leap in evolution” that prompted several countries to quickly restrict travel from the region.
For several hours, Britain, Israel and Singapore have restricted entry from South Africa and some neighboring countries, citing the threat of a new option. To Friday markets fell in Japan in response to the opening, and officials in Australia and elsewhere New Zealand said they were watching the new version closely.
The European Commission will also propose to restrict air travel to the bloc from southern Africa due to concerns over this option, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday on Twitter. She named it with the scientific name B.1.1.529.
Over the past two days, scientists have discovered this variant after observing the rise in infections in the economic heartland of South Africa surrounding Johannesburg. There are 22 positive cases in the country to date, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases of South Africa. Two cases were discovered in Hong Kong, both apparently related to someone who came from South Africa. No cases have yet been identified in the UK.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several options have emerged. One of their main concerns is whether they will stop the fight against the virus or limit the effectiveness of vaccines. South African scientists will meet with a World Health Organization technical group on Friday to discuss the new option, and the authorities will assign a Greek letter to it.
But governments are not waiting for restrictions. By Thursday evening UK has banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe starting at noon local time on Friday. Six countries will be added to the country’s red list, requiring British travelers arriving from those countries to be quarantined upon arrival.
“More data is required, but we are now taking precautions,” said Health Minister Sajid Javid. said on twitter…
V statement published on Friday on a government website, South Africa said it would urge the UK to reconsider the measure, saying: “The UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK appears to have been hasty as even the World Health Organization has yet to announce next steps.” …
In December 2020, South Africa was the first country to report the appearance of a beta, which has now spread to nearly 70 countries. Scientists were concerned that some clinical trials showed vaccines provide less protection against the beta variant. Since more dangerous and aggressive variant of Delta spread throughout the world and is believed to be responsible for the latest spike in cases.
This variant has also been found in Botswana. The country’s health ministry confirmed in a statement that four cases of the new variant were found in humans, all of whom were fully vaccinated. All four were checked before the planned trip.
With over 1,200 new infections, the daily infection rate in South Africa is much lower than in Germany, where new cases are the driving force. However, the density of mutations in this new variant raises concerns that it could be highly contagious, forcing scientists to sound the alarm ahead of time.
“This option really surprised us, it has a big leap in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after the very difficult third wave of the Delta,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
According to Mr. de Oliveira, variant B1.1.529 has a “very unusual mutation constellation” of more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone. About the ACE2 receptor – a protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells – the new variant has 10 mutations. By comparison, there are three in the Beta and two in the Delta, said Mr de Oliveira.
Scientists still do not know how effective existing vaccines will be against the new variant, which demonstrates mutations that may resist neutralization.
This variant bears similarities to the lambda and beta variants, which are associated with innate immune evasion, said Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
“All of this gives us some concern that this variant may not only have increased transmissibility, thus spreading more efficiently, but it may also bypass some parts of the immune system and the defenses that we have in our immune system,” said Mr. said Lessells.
The new variant was found mainly in young adults, a cohort that also has the lowest vaccination rates in South Africa. According to the country’s health minister, Dr. Joe Fahl, just over a quarter of people between the ages of 18 and 34 in South Africa are vaccinated.
Although cases of the new variant of the disease are mostly concentrated in the economic center of the country, especially in the capital Pretoria, the spread of the virus throughout the country is “only a matter of time” as schools close and families prepare for the vacation trip. – said Mr. Fahla.
Alexandra E. Petri made reporting.