Rome, 25 November 2021 – A new one variant of Covid-19 was detected in South Africa, African country officially most affected by the pandemic and which is witnessing a new increase in infections. “Unfortunately, we have detected a new variant which is of concern in South Africa,” said virologist Tulio de Oliveira.
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The new variant of the SarsCoV2 virus has at least 32 Spike protein mutations which could theoretically increase its transmissibility and the ability to evade antibodies: called B.1.1.529, it is already under the lens ofWorld Health Organization (WHO), that for now the ranking among the variants to be monitored. Too few data are still available: according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa, the presence of the variant has been documented with sequencing in 22 positive cases, but many others are confirmed in these days by various laboratories in the country. Four cases would have been identified in Botswana and one to Hong Kong on a return traveler from South Africa. Meanwhile, the scientific community has already taken steps to try to quickly complete the identikit of this new variant. Thomas Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, points out on his Twitter profile that “the staggering number of mutations in the Spike protein suggests that this variant could cause concern” due to the hypothetical ability to escape many of the known monoclonal antibodies. At the moment, however, there are still too few data available to draw conclusions: the diffusion of the variant seems to be still limited and there are no laboratory tests that demonstrate its real transmissibility and elusiveness.
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Scientists try to understand the risks
Scientists in South Africa are working diligently to understand the new variant, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. South Africa confirmed approx 100 almost di B.1.1.529, but the variant was also found in Botswana and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong case is a traveler from South Africa, according to Reuters. For scientists, up to 90% of new cases in Gauteng, a northern province of South Africa, could be B.1.1.529. “Although the data is limited, our experts are working overtime to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be, “the South African Institute said in a statement. The country requested an urgent meeting of a working group of the World Health Organization (WHO) on evolution for Friday of the virus to talk about the new variant.
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