What you need to know about the new B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant

The World Health Organization has scheduled a special meeting on Friday to discuss a worrying new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa that appears to be mutating rapidly.

The so-called B.1.1.529 variant appears to have a high number of mutations – about 30 – in its tip protein, which can affect how easily it spreads to humans, scientists have warned.

“We do not know much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves, ”said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director at COVID-19, according to CNBC.

Here’s what we know about B.1.1.529 so far.

Where has B.1.1.529 been discovered?

It is unclear where the new variant actually originated, but it was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

On Friday, Israel – one of the world’s most vaccinated countries – announced that it had also detected the country’s first case of B.1.1.529 in a traveler returning from Malawi.

The World Health Organization has scheduled a meeting to discuss a new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa that appears to be mutating.
The World Health Organization has scheduled a meeting to discuss a new coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa that appears to be mutating.
AP

“We are right now on the brink of a state of emergency. Our main principle is to act fast, strong and now, “said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement issued by his office.

The traveler and two other suspects have been isolated. Israeli officials said all three have been vaccinated but are currently investigating their exact vaccination status.

Is B.1.1.529 more contagious?

Much about the strain is still unknown, but its scientists say its high number of mutations may mean it is more transmissible.

Sharon Peacock, who has led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in the UK at the University of Cambridge, told the Associated Press that the data so far suggest that the virus’ mutations are “compatible with increased transmissibility”, but said that “the importance of many of the mutations are still unknown. “

She said it would take several weeks to do the necessary laboratory tests to determine the answers.

B.1.1.529 has a peak protein that is extremely different from that of the original defect on which the vaccines are based.
B.1.1.529 has a peak protein that is extremely different from that of the original defect on which the vaccines are based.
AP

Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said an increase in COVID-19 infections in South Africa – especially in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province – was worrying.

“The biggest risk is that (this variant) is better at re-infecting humans as well as being more transmissible and virulent,” he said in a statement.

Can B.1.1.529 avoid vaccines?

B.1.1.529 has a peak protein that is drastically different from that in the original bug on which the vaccines are based, according to the UK Health Safety Agency, which raises some concerns about how the current jabs will work against it.

The South African Ministry of Health also said during a briefing on Thursday that the variant contains several mutations associated with increased antibody resistance, which may reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.

Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said scientists are studying the role of vaccines in stopping the spread of B.1.1.529.

“We fly at warp speed,” Moore told Nature magazine.

However, it is important to note that fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are available so far, according to the WHO.

It is unclear where the new variant actually originated, but it was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.
It is unclear where the new variant actually originated, but it was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.
AP

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand the impact of this variant on potential vaccines,” Van Kerkhove said.

WHO experts will meet on Friday to discuss the risks involved in the variant and whether it should be identified as one of interest or variant of concern.

“Right now, researchers are gathering to understand where these mutations are in the peak protein and furin cleavage site, and what it could potentially mean for our diagnostics or therapy and our vaccines,” Van Kerkhove said, adding that the agency could assign the Greek name Nu .

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