A new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa appears to mutate and spread rapidly among younger patients, officials said Thursday.
The new variant – christened B.1.1.529 by scientists – has been discovered in South Africa, Botswana and by a South African traveler to Hong Kong, according to South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
Phaahla said in an online press briefing on Thursday that “over the last four or five days there has been more of an exponential increase” in the variant.
Health authorities expressed concern that the variant could result in immune evasion and greater transmission of the virus, but have said it is too early to determine its effect yet.
The new variant has a “constellation” of new mutations, according to Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which has been tasked with tracking the spread of the variant in the country. The new variant so far has over 30 mutations.
The “very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmission,” de Oliveira said.
“We can see that the variant is potentially spreading very fast,” he said. “We expect to start seeing pressure in healthcare over the next few days and weeks.”
Only 41 percent of South Africans have been vaccinated against the virus.
A team from the World Health Organization is scheduled to meet Friday to determine if the variant is significant enough to receive a name from the Greek alphabet.
In response to the outbreak, Britain stopped travel to six countries in the region on Thursday: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended on Friday noon.
British Health Minister Sajid Javid said there was concern that the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the currently dominant delta strain.
“The vaccines we currently have may be less effective” against it, he added.
With Post Wire