COVID-19 | A new variant detected in South Africa

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(Johannesburg) Potentially highly contagious and with multiple mutations, a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in South Africa, which is seeing signs of a new wave of a pandemic, scientists said Thursday.

Posted on Nov 25, 2021 at 7:44 am

Updated at 12:53 PM

Variant B.1.1529 shows an “extremely high” number of mutations and “we can see that it has the potential to spread very quickly,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira told an online press conference chaired by the Health Ministry.

His team at the KRISP research institute, backed by the University of Kwazulu-Natal, had already discovered the highly contagious Beta variant last year.

Metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible, to the point of making the variant dominant: this was the case of the Delta variant initially discovered in India, which according to the WHO reduced the effectiveness of vaccines to 40%. . anti-COVID-19 against disease transmission.

At this point, South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new form of the virus.

“What worries us is that this variant could not only have a higher transmission capacity, but it could also bypass parts of our immune system,” said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.

To date, 22 cases have been reported, mostly affecting young people, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Cases have also been reported in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, in a person returning from a trip to South Africa.

The WHO will meet on Friday to determine the dangerousness of the variant. “There are many variants, but some do not have an impact on the progression of the epidemic,” said John Nkengasong of the African Union Center for Disease Control and Prevention at a press conference (Africa CDC).

“Great threat”

But already, “the number of detected cases and the percentage of positive tests are increasing rapidly,” the NICD said in a statement, especially in the more populous province of Gauteng, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Health centers should expect a new wave of patients in the coming days or weeks, the scientists warned.

South Africa, officially the most affected country on the continent by the virus, has seen a further increase in contamination in recent weeks. Attributed first to the Delta variant, this “exponential” increase is rather caused by the last mutated form, which poses “a great threat,” said Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

His appearance “reinforces the fact that this invisible enemy we are dealing with is very unpredictable,” he added.

South Africa has around 2.9 million cases, resulting in 89,600 deaths. More than 1,200 new cases were registered in 24 hours on Wednesday, compared to a hundred at the beginning of the month.

Authorities fear a new wave of pandemics before the end of the year. Only 35% of eligible adults are fully immunized.

Globally, Europe has once again become the global epicenter of the pandemic. Austria recently imposed a new lockdown, France announced a strengthening of sanitary measures while Germany crossed the 100,000 death threshold.

The coronavirus has killed more than 5.16 million people worldwide since its appearance in China at the end of 2019. The WHO estimates that when considering the excess mortality directly and indirectly linked to COVID-19, the number of victims of the pandemic could be two or three times higher. .

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