The World Health Organization is holding a meeting on Friday to discuss the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in South Africa, blamed on a new variant of the virus.
Joe Phaahla, South African Minister of Health, identified the new variant as B.1.1.529 and said it appears to be highly contagious among young people.
The TBEN reported that the new variant appears to be the most heavily mutated so far in the outbreak. James Gallagher, the health correspondent, wrote that a scientist described the variant as “horrible.” He said the WHO meeting will likely result in the variant being given a Greek code name, like the Delta variant.
“This variant surprised us,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation. “He’s got a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations than we expected. “
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Nature magazine reported that the variant was first reported in Botswana earlier this month. The report says scientists are trying to determine whether the variant can somehow evade the immune response. A Johannesburg researcher said: “We fly at high speed. “
Aris Katzourakis, expert in viral evolution at the University of Oxford, said: “A burning question is whether this reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine because it has so many changes.”
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The UK government has announced that it is banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries starting at noon (1200GMT) on Friday, and that anyone recently arriving from those countries would be invited to pass a coronavirus test.
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UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the dominant delta strain and that “the vaccines we currently have may be less effective” against it.
The The Bharat Express News contributed to this report