A new variant of the coronavirus – called B.1.1.529 – has been identified in South Africa, with officials saying it is of concern. Fears that a new strain could fuel epidemics in many countries, straining health systems, potentially avoiding vaccines and complicating efforts to reopen economies and borders, has sent a wave of risk aversion on world markets on Friday.
Here’s what we know so far:
How is this variant different?
Scientists say that B.1.1.529 carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the entry of the virus into body cells. This is also what vaccines are aimed at. Researchers are still trying to determine if it is more transmissible or more deadly than the previous ones.
Where is he from?
So far there is only speculation. A scientist from the UCL Genetics Institute in London said it likely evolved during chronic infection from an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV / AIDS patient. South Africa has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the largest number in the world. The beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, can also come from a person infected with HIV.
How widespread is it?
As of Thursday, nearly 100 cases had been detected in South Africa, where it has become the dominant strain among new infections. The first results of PCR tests showed that 90% of the 1,100 new cases reported on Wednesday in the South African province which includes Johannesburg were caused by the new variant, according to Tulio de Oliveira, professor of bioinformatics who heads sequencing institutions. genetics in two South Africans. the universities.
This new variant, B.1.1.529 seems to be spreading very quickly! In less than 2 weeks, now dominates all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa (new blue variant, now at 75% of last genomes and will soon reach 100%) pic.twitter.com/Z9mde45Qe0
– Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) 25 November 2021
In neighboring Botswana, authorities recorded four cases on Monday in people who were fully vaccinated. In Hong Kong, a traveler from South Africa was found to have the variant, and another case was identified in a person quarantined in a hotel room across the hall.
What was the reaction?
News of the new variant rocked markets on Friday, with travel-related stocks in Asia among the most declining as investors anticipated the negative impact it will have on travel. The UK has temporarily banned flights from six African countries and Australia has said it will not rule out tightening border rules for travelers from southern Africa if the situation worsens. India has stepped up screening of inbound travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong. The yen, widely regarded as a safe haven, rose 0.4% against the dollar, while the South African rand slipped to its lowest level in a year.
Is this worrying?
It is too early to tell. The World Health Organization has said that there are less than 100 complete genomic sequences of the new variant available, which could increase the time needed to study it as well as the effectiveness of current vaccines against it. Viruses mutate all the time, the changes sometimes making the virus weaker or sometimes making it more able to escape antibodies and infect humans.
What should we pay attention to next?
WHO called a meeting on Friday to discuss B.1.1.529 and decide whether it will be officially designated as a variant of interest or concern. If so, he will receive a name in Greek letter according to the WHO naming scheme, probably the letter “nu”. Governments are also likely to take action regarding border and travel controls in response to news of the variant.
– Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS) (@WHO) 25 novembre 2021
(À l’exception du titre, cette histoire n’a pas été éditée par le personnel de The Bharat Express News et est publiée à partir d’un flux syndiqué.)