B.1.1.529; New Covid strain found in South Africa

A new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 - called B.1.1.529 -- has been identified in South Africa. Here’s what we know about it.

B.1.1.529; New Covid strain found in South Africa

A completely new variant of the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is termed B.1.1.529 and it has been identified in South Africa and officials are saying that this new variant is a serious matter of concern. There are fears that a new variant might cause outbreaks in many other countries, distorting health systems, potentially eluding vaccines and making efforts complicated to again open economies and borders. This has sent a wave of risk and concern across the world markets on Friday.

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Here’s what we know about the new variant so far-

  1. What is different about this new variant?

Scientists are stating that B.1.1.529 carries a huge number of mutations in its spike protein that plays a vital role in the entry of the virus into cells in the human body. It is also what is targeted by many vaccines. Researchers are still trying to examine whether this new variant is more lethal or more transmissible than the previous variant.

  1. What are its origins?

So far there has been only speculation. One of the scientists in London at the UCL Genetics Institute stated that it most probably evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, probably in an HIV/AIDS patient who was untreated. South Africa has almost 8.2 million citizens who are infected with HIV which is the most in the whole world. The beta variant in South Africa which is a mutation that was found last year may also have come from a person infected with HIV.

  1. How widespread is the new variant?

As of Thursday, there were nearly 100 cases that were found in South Africa, where it is becoming the strong strain among new infections. Early results of PCR tests showed that 905 of 1,100 new cases were reported on Wednesday in South Africa that includes Johannesburg which were caused by the new strain, according to Tulio de Oliveira who is a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at 2 South African universities. In Botswana, which is a neighbour of Johannesburg, official witnessed four cases in people on Monday who were completely vaccinated. Whereas in Hong Kong, a traveller from South Africa was seen to have the new variant and also another case was seen in a person who was quarantined in a hotel room across the hall.

  1. What is the reaction globally?

The news of this new variant enraged markets Friday, with stocks related to travel in Asia among the biggest decliners as investors predicted the bad impact it will have on travel. The United Kingdom announced a temporary ban on flights from 6 African countries, and Australia stated it would not rule out tight rules in the borders for travellers from the southern part of Africa if the situation gets worsen. India moved up screening of travellers that are coming from South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana. The yen which is typically seen as a very safe asset rose 0.4% against the mighty dollar while the rand of South Africa came down to a one-year low.

  1. How worrisome is the new strain?

It is too early to make any sort of statement. The WHO stated that there are fewer than 100 whole genomic cases of the new variant that is available, which could add to the time it takes to understand and study it as well as how the current vaccines can work against the new variant. Viruses do mutate always, with the changes sometimes it makes the virus weak or sometimes it makes it more adept at eluding antibodies and thus infecting human bodies.

  1. What must we expect for next?

The World Health Organisation announced for a meeting today to discuss B.1.1.529 and decide that whether it will be officially declared as a variant of concern or interest. If it does, it will get a Greek letter name under the WHO naming scheme as usual, most likely the letter “nu”. Governments will also be undertaking serious precautions on border and travel controls to control the spread of the new variant in response of the news.

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B.1.1.529; New Covid strain found in South Africa
A new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 - called B.1.1.529 -- has been identified in South Africa. Here’s what we know about it.
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